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The Beginning After by Kiersten Modglin (28)

Thirty-Three

CLAY

“Nealson,” the voice behind him called. Clay turned around.

“Sharp, what’s up?” he asked the officer.

“Mackenzie asked me to drop this off with you,” he said, holding up a manila folder. “Lab results.”

Clay’s heart jumped, realizing what the envelope contained. He stood up, taking it from the man. “Thanks.” He stared at the folder, wondering if it was appropriate for him to open. She had asked him to run the test, after all. She’d trusted him with the knowledge of what would be in it. He looked up, realizing Sharp was still standing in front of him.

“Is that all?” he asked, trying to keep the edge out of his voice.

“Oh,” Sharp said, looking sheepish. “Yeah. Which case is that for?” he asked, still not moving.

“Don’t you have paperwork you should be doing?” Clay asked, changing the subject.

“Nah, it’s a slow day,” he responded, sitting down across from his desk. “C’mon, what is it?” he asked.

Looking over Sharp’s shoulder, Clay smiled happily, raising a hand up to wave. “Oh, hey Chief!”

Sharp jumped up, spinning around quickly. Realizing the chief was nowhere in sight and he’d been duped, he turned to Clay, throwing a wad of paper at him. “Ass,” he said playfully.

Clay laughed, ducking out of the way. “Get back to work, kid.” He shook his head, standing up from the desk and walking away before Sharp could ask any further questions. He headed out of the station, the folder still in his hands. Pulling the keys out of his pocket, he unlocked his truck and climbed in. He stared at the papers that hung out of the sides, not revealing enough of what Clay wanted so desperately to see.

He laid it beside of him in the seat, refusing to look. It wasn’t his business, he reminded himself. Not yet anyway. He would let Peighton tell him the results if she wanted him to know. If not, that would be okay too.

He pulled away from the station, pulling down the visor to shield his eyes. As he drove, he thought of her. It had been only a few days since he’d seen her, yet it felt much longer. He couldn’t help but let his mind drift off to her even when he was actively thinking of something else. He wondered where she was, what she was doing, and if she was thinking of him. He laughed out loud, realizing he hadn’t felt this way in years. It was as if he were a teenager again.

As he pulled into their neighborhood, he drove past his house and onto the road where Peighton lived. He made his way into her driveway and climbed out of the truck, grabbing the folder from his passenger’s seat. When he arrived at the front door, he took a deep breath, stood up straight, and knocked on the glass of her screen door softly.

The door opened almost immediately, though instead of Peighton he found himself staring at Kyle. The boy looked him up and down, his eyebrows raised.

“Hey, Kyle.” He smiled at him, trying to decipher his expression.

Kyle stepped back, looking behind him. “Mom!” he yelled into the house.

“I’m glad you’re home,” Clay told him once he was inside and the door had been shut.

Kyle nodded, though he didn’t respond. They stood awkwardly in silence, both avoiding eye contact before Kyle finally gave up, shrugging and walking out of the room. Clay sighed, wondering where Peighton could be.

When she finally appeared, she was wearing jeans and a t-shirt with a towel wrapped around her head. Her face was free of makeup and she looked completely shocked to see him.

“Clay!” she said when she walked into the living room, her cheeks flushing. She reached up, grabbing the towel and pulling it off her head immediately. Her long, honey hair fell in loose, wet tendrils and she ran her hands through it nervously. “What are you doing here?”

“Kyle let me in,” he assured her. “I brought you something.”

“Oh?” She smiled, looking excited for a moment before her eyes found the folder in his hands. “Oh.”

“I didn’t read it,” he promised her.

She held out her hands. “Did Kyle see this?” she whispered.

“If he noticed it, he didn’t ask what it was.”

“Okay,” she said, walking into the kitchen and laying the folder on the table. She took a deep breath, bracing herself. She looked at him one last time before flipping open the file and reading, her finger tracing along the page. After a few minutes, she closed it once again, not looking at him.

“Peighton?” he asked. “Is it…is everything okay?”

She pressed her fingers into the bridge of her nose. “No,” she said. “No. It’s the news I expected, I guess, but it’s not good news.”

He pressed his lips together, stepping through the doorway into the kitchen. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Can you bring my husband back from the dead, so I can kill him?” she joked, tears filling her eyes.

He approached her, wrapping her in his arms, and rubbing her back. She settled her face into his shoulder and he could feel her warm breath seeping through his shirt. She inhaled sharply, and he knew she was crying. He pressed his cheek into hers, allowing her to cry for as long as she needed. Her wet hair fell onto his face, but he didn’t dare move.

Finally, she pulled away, wiping her eyes quickly. “This isn’t your problem, Clay.’”

He moved a piece of hair out of her eyes. “If it’s your problem, it’s my problem, Ace. What can I do to help?”

“There’s nothing to do,” she said.

“Well, what can I do to make you feel better?”

She sighed, staring at him. “Why are you being so nice to me?”

“Because you’re hurting. And because I don’t have a reason not to be nice to you. What you’ve done is in the past. I won’t hold it against you.”

“What I’ve done?” she asked. “What does that mean?”

He paused, realizing he’d placed his foot square in his mouth. “Nothing. I don’t know why I said that.”

“It’s not what you think, Clay,” she said. “I didn’t want the paternity test because I had an affair on Todd.”

Frowning, he rubbed her temple. “It doesn’t matter to me.”

“No,” she said, stepping back. Her face was serious. “You need to know the truth.”

“Okay…” he said cautiously, unsure if he was ready for it.

“I didn’t ask for this because I had an affair. I wasn’t cheating on Todd. The truth is, Todd and I couldn’t get pregnant. We’d tried.” She stopped, rubbing her fingers over her mouth in obvious pain. “Oh god, we tried. But it never worked out. Something about his babies weren’t compatible with my body. I couldn’t carry his children. The doctors never understood why. We had three miscarriages before we finally gave up. We knew it wasn’t going to happen for us and we decided we’d have to be okay with that. But then Todd had an idea to go in for invitro. He’d always wanted a baby. Maybe more than I wanted one, as awful as that is to say.” She stopped, staring at him. When he didn’t respond, she went on. “I love my son,” she told him. “He means everything to me, so I don’t want you to think I’m saying any different. But for me, the marriage would’ve been okay without a child. For Todd, that was the most important thing. It drove him crazy that we couldn’t make something so simple, so human, work. People have babies on accident and we couldn’t do it. Todd was…perfect. I don’t believe he’d ever known failure, and for him, that was the worst kind of failure there was. It tore him up to think he’d never be a dad. And it tore me up for him. So, when he suggested invitro, I didn’t think twice.”

“So, Todd isn’t Kyle’s father?” Clay asked, confirming what he had already assumed.

“No,” she said, holding up the folder, “apparently not.”

“Okay, but you said you already knew that. So, why the test?”

“Because the person I believed was his father isn’t.”

“What do you mean? Who was that?”

She paused, biting her lip. “He was a friend.”

“Oh,” Clay said, trying to read the expression that hit her face.

“I thought maybe, by some miracle, Todd had made it work. Made our baby…happen. He was like that, you know, he could make miracles happen. I swear, he could snap his fingers and change the world. And he did.” She smiled, remembering. “He changed my world.”

Clay smiled at her, feeling awkward. He could never fit into Todd’s shoes, it was obvious. He was far from a miracle worker and no one was in any hurry to call him perfect.

“I’m sorry,” Peighton said, realizing the silence that had filled the room.

“You don’t have to apologize,” he told her. “You’re allowed to love your husband.”

“I just thought that maybe if I found out Kyle really was Todd’s child, maybe it would make everything okay.”

“Make what okay?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Well, maybe he used an anonymous donor.”

“Maybe,” Peighton said.

“You could probably find that out,” Clay said softly. “If it’s important to you.”

“I guess it shouldn’t matter,” she said, “but it does.”

“Of course, it does,” he agreed. “It’s your child’s father.”

“You won’t tell him, will you?” she asked, her eyes wild.

“No,” Clay promised. “I would never.”

“Thank you,” she said. “And thank you for bringing this by.”

He leaned in to kiss her, their lips touching softly. Her eyes were a million miles away and he knew she needed space. “Have you told Kyle about us?” he asked.

“No,” she said apologetically. “I want to. I’m going to. I just need to sit down with him and have a real talk. I will.”

“No rush,” he assured her.

“I will today,” she said. “I promise.”

He kissed her again. “I’ll leave you to it.”

“Thank you again,” she said, though he wasn’t sure what she was thanking him for.

“I’ll see you soon, Ace,” he said, kissing her forehead. “Take care.”

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