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The Beginning After by Kiersten Modglin (12)

Thirteen

PEIGHTON

Peighton sat across the table from Isabel, both sipping from their china teacups. Isabel reached across the table, her hand rubbing Peighton’s kindly.

“It’s going to be all right, honey. He’ll come around.”

“Do you think so?”

“You’re his mother. He loves you.”

Peighton took another sip of her chamomile. “I really hurt him, Izzy.”

The housekeeper nodded. “And you’ll do it again, and he you. It’s a never-ending cycle, my dear, mothers and our babies. But it’s filled with love. Kyle knows you love him. You’re all he has left.”

“He’s all I have left,” she whined. “Izzy, I can’t lose him.”

“Shh, shh, now. You just calm down,” she soothed. “No one’s losing anybody.” She rubbed Peighton’s arm. “You just drink your tea and breathe.” She stood up, walking to the stove and grabbing the kettle, returning to the table to refill their cups. “Ms. Peighton, forgive me if I’m overstepping, but have you ever considered telling Kyle the truth? I mean, about everything?”

Peighton looked at her in horror. “Oh, I couldn’t.” Isabel placed the tea kettle back on the stove, walking cautiously back to the table. Peighton grabbed her arm as she sat down. “Izzy, he can never know. Never. You swore that you’d never tell a soul.”

“I’ll keep my word, Ms. I will, I was only suggesting that it could be a way for him to understand why you did what you did.”

“He wouldn’t understand.”

“You don’t give him enough credit. Kyle is a smart boy, a sweet boy, I think if you just

I said no,” Peighton snapped.

“Very well. It was merely a suggestion,” Isabel retorted, pulling her cup of tea toward her again. “I’m going to go finish the laundry, if you don’t need anything else.”

“No,” Peighton said, feeling guilty. “That’s fine.” The housekeeper stood up, walking away. Peighton downed the rest of her tea quickly, though it burned her throat. She stood up too, grabbing her jacket off the back of the chair. “I’m going out,” she called to the housekeeper, who didn’t respond.

* * *

Peighton pulled up to the hotel, staring around the parking lot, desperately looking for his car. She’d been to the three other hotels in town already, this was her last hope. If she knew him at all, she knew he wouldn’t have left town, not yet. As she drove through the lot, she spotted it. The dark blue Kia sat in the far corner, tucked in between a red truck and a walnut tree. She recognized its out of state license plate. She sighed with relief. Until that moment, she hadn’t realized just how much she was counting on finding him.

She frowned, wondering how she was going to figure out which room he would be in. For a moment, she contemplated going to each door and knocking, making her way through each room until she saw his face. Realizing how long that would take, she changed her mind. She didn’t want to give him a heads up that she was coming for him.

She climbed out of the car, glancing around and wondering if she were being watched. She looked up, shielding her eyes from the sun. Walking into the lobby of the hotel, she smiled at the young man at the counter. She couldn’t help but be reminded of a bird as she stared at his thick, coal black hair that stood in every direction.

“Hi, can I help you?” he rattled off, not bothering to make eye contact.

“I hope so,” she said. “I’m looking for Andrew Ross’ room, please.”

He frowned. “Mmhmm, I can’t give out guest’s room numbers, ma’am.”

“Oh, of course not,” she said, pulling a twenty out of her pocket, something she’d seen Todd do many times. She had no doubt, had he been with her, they’d get the information she needed. “It’s just, well, I’m his wife and today’s his birthday. I didn’t think I would be able to make it into town to see him, but I moved a few things around. I want to surprise him, and I’d really appreciate your help.” She slid the bill across the counter.

He picked it up, eyeing it suspiciously, and slipped it into his shirt pocket. “Right, well, that’s super sweet and all,” he said, making it obvious he didn’t care how sweet it was, “but I can’t help you, mmkay?”

She pressed her lips together firmly, trying to hide her frustration. “Could you contact him then? Ask him to come down here?”

He rolled his eyes slightly, smacking his gum. “Couldn’t you do that?”

“I want it to be a surprise,” she insisted.

“Okay, whatever, sure.” He picked up the bulky white phone that sat on the counter and placed it between his shoulder and ear. He began typing on his computer, his eyes scanning the screen, before he punched three digits into the phone. “Yes, hello, Mr. Ross? This is Tyler at the front desk. You have a visitor down here.” Peighton stared at him, her brow furrowed. Tyler ignored her. “Well, she said she’s your wife.” He hung up the phone with a snarky look on his face. “Room 613.”

Peighton turned, not bothering to say anything else, and walked into the elevator. She pressed the six, watching the button light up as the doors closed. Her hands were ice cold, her pulse pounding in her ears as she rode up to the sixth floor. Everything in her screamed that she should turn around, leave before he saw her, but she couldn’t. She needed to see him.

When the elevator doors opened, she exhaled, not realizing she had been holding her breath. She walked out, looking around for the room. It didn’t take her long to find—613 was only three doors down from where she stood. She walked forward slowly, almost unaware she was moving. When she reached the door, she held up her hand to knock, hesitating slightly.

The door swung open before her fist made contact with the wood and he stood there, his jaw slightly hung open. “Peighton?”

She nodded.

“What are you doing here?”

“I came to hear you out,” she said softly. “You obviously came here for a reason. I want to know what it is you wanted to tell me.”

“Okay,” he said, taking a breath. “Well, okay. Why don’t you go ahead and come in?” He stepped back, holding his arm up to let her past him. She moved past him quickly before she could change her mind and walked into the hotel room. She sat at the edge of one of the queen beds, crossing one leg over the other and placing her hands on her knees. Drew made his way to the other bed, sitting down. “Thank you for coming.”

“I wasn’t sure if you’d let me in.”

“Of course I would. I have no hard feelings against you, Peighton. I know you don’t feel the same.”

“No, I don’t. What you did—I don’t know if I can ever forgive you.”

“I understand,” he said. “I would love your forgiveness, but I don’t expect it.”

“What do you expect then?”

“To tell you the truth. To explain to you why I did what I did.”

“Why you tried to ruin our lives, you mean?”

“It didn’t start out that way. I never meant to hurt anyone. I just…fell in love. I couldn’t help it that you were married. I couldn’t help it that my love came at the expense of a marriage. I know none of that makes it right—I do. I know that nothing I say can take away all of the hurt I caused you both, but it wasn’t one-sided. My heart was broken when we split up. I acted out of spite because I was devastated. I would have never actually told anyone what happened between us. I’m not that kind of a person. It was fear and anger fueling me and I’ve since realized how horrible that must’ve been for you guys. Senseless worry.” He shook his head. “I’ve lived with what I did every day for the past fifteen years. Not just the affair, but everything after.”

Peighton felt a tear drift down her cheek and she reached a finger up to catch it. She hadn’t realized she’d started crying. “Todd was so hurt. I’ve never seen him…so hurt.

“I know. For years, I had hoped to get up the courage to be a man and face him. To apologize to him in person. But, I saw how happy you were. Your family. I didn’t want to interrupt what seemed so perfect. I couldn’t bring myself to interfere again.” He stopped, then spoke suddenly, his hand up in defense. “Not that I think we would’ve, you know, started the affair again, I didn’t mean that

“I know what you meant,” she cut him off.

“Good.” He smiled halfheartedly. “I’m sorry for your loss, by the way. I never got to say that at the funeral.”

She nodded, not sure what to say. “Todd was a good man.”

“Kyle is growing up to look just like him.”

She frowned at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. Just what I said, he looks just like Todd,” he said defensively.

“Is that what this is about? Kyle? If you think for one second that you’re going to see him or be around him or that…that he’ll ever know who you are, you’re wrong. He will never know you.” She stood up, wagging her finger in his face, her skin growing warm.

“Peighton, slow down.” He stood up too. “I’m not here for Kyle—honestly, I’m not.”

She took a deep breath. “Have you seen him? How do you know what he looks like?”

“I saw him at the funeral, Peight,” he said, his voice calm. Suddenly, realization filled his eyes and he covered his mouth. “Oh my god.”

“What?”

“He never told you.”

“Told me what?”

“Peighton,” he paused, taking a breath. “Kyle isn’t my son.”

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