I. I wouldn't ask for what I didn't need
It's Taylor's 13 th birthday, and all she wants is a party. She hasn't had one in ten years—not since the last birthday she shared with her sister—and in all that time she's never once complained, never asked why, never said it wasn't fair. And it wasn't, of course. You've always known that, even if your daughter was too gracious to say it, and that's why you find yourself plastering on a smile while your house is invaded by young teenagers, trying to pretend that their presence doesn't serve as a stark reminder of what you've lost.
All day, you catch glimpses of your little girl and marvel at the young woman she's becoming. All day, you have to remind yourself not to imagine what your other little girl must look like now. Is Lyndon as tall as Taylor? Has her dark hair faded to blonde, like her sister's? Does she have the same quiet poise?
But this is Taylor's day. She's spent ten years being overshadowed by the mere idea of Lyndon; you swear to yourself that you'll let her have this one day. But you've sworn to let her have a lot of things that never quite come to fruition. She never seems to mind.
By the time the cake is cut you can't take it anymore, and retreat to the front porch to break. Your partner finds you there—he's come to pick up his son, but instead he sits next to you and listens as you talk yourself hoarse, until your tears have slowed to sniffles and you actually find yourself laughing as you relay some of Lyndon's toddlerhood antics.
God, it feels good to say her name with a smile.
David and Grant return from wherever it was they went to get away from the house full of tweenagers. As you watch your husband get out of the car, you realize that you can't remember the last time the two of you were able to talk about her at all.
You feel Kyle's hand on the small of your back, just out of David's view.
II. You made a slow disaster out of me
You have no idea how you got here.
Oh sure, you remember the winding back roads out of town, the unnecessary detours and the separate routes you insisted on taking so that no one from work could possibly figure out just what you were about to do. But standing in front of a motel door, plastic key card in your shaking hand—you can't even begin to fathom what led you to this point.
You enter quickly, pulling the door shut behind you as if you're expecting to be followed by torches and pitchforks. A deep laughter rings out from the direction of the bed, and as your eyes adjust to the dim light you see Kyle sprawled out there, looking impossibly comfortable given the circumstances.
He gets up, and you freeze as he approaches, just watching as he brushes an errant strand of hair from your eyes. He asks if you're okay, and there's a tenderness in his voice that you haven't heard from David in years.
Suddenly you know exactly why you're here.
III. I'll do what I can to be a confident wreck
For years everyone told you that Lyndon was dead. It wasn't until you met Carter that you started to believe them. You'd always thought that nothing could make you feel more alone than being the mother of a kidnapped daughter; as it turns out, you didn't know what isolation was until you began mourning the loss of a child that's right in front of you.
You avoid being at home now almost as much as you did when Lyndon—Carter—was missing. At least then there was a purpose to the long nights you spent at the station; all those years you spent chasing the very person you're now running away from. The irony hasn't escaped you.
When Kyle finds you at your desk one night and offers to talk, it's all you can do not to shut him out too. You've tried talking to your therapist, to Carter, to David, to your mother—everything you say only seems to make things worse, though you can't figure out how or why. But it's been so long since someone's asked how you are and genuinely seemed to care about the answer that you lead him into an empty file room anyway, although talking is the last thing on your mind.
You'll tell him anything if only he'll keep touching you like you matter, like you're something special he wants all to himself. You might even mean it when you swear that you're through with your husband, that you'll tear apart the family you've been painstakingly trying to hold together—because what the hell, it's not like they seem to care much either way. Carter's made it abundantly clear that she wants you gone, and sometimes you think she's not the only one.
But Kyle wants you right here, right now, and it's the only good thing you've felt in months. All you want is more.
IV. Wanting not to want you won't make it so
They all know. David, the children—three years of lies laid bare in front of everyone you love. Humiliation is an understatement.
Kyle warned you that this was coming, but you hadn't wanted to believe him. You still don't want to believe it—even as you tell him you can't see him anymore, you look to him for comfort.
He holds you close and tells you that it's all right, that he understands why this is the only choice you can make. You breathe in the scent of his cologne as if it's something you can hold onto, even as you whisper that you can't stay.
You wonder if anyone will ever hold you like this again. Will your husband? Would you want him to?
The only bright spot in all of this is that when Carter looked into your eyes and told you what she knew, you hadn't seen any hatred there. Disappointment, yes—even sadness. But she didn't hate you. For that alone, you would sacrifice the only happiness you've known in years.
As you walk away, you actually feel a strange sense of hope.
V. I was careful, but nothing is harmless
When your marriage falls apart for the umpteenth time, it only seems natural to go back to Kyle.
It's not that you don't know how to be alone, really. With or without David and the kids, you've felt alone for most of your adult life. It's being alone by yourself that you're not sure how to take.
You warn him from the start that you don't know what you want. Your world has shattered so many times in just the last few months that you can't see clearly through the cracks. It doesn't even occur to you that you're using him until the moment that he realizes it's over.
The pain in his eyes knocks the breath out of you, and for a fleeting second you think you'd give anything to take it all back. But you won't give up on your family, not when you've waited years to have them together again, and so all you can do is sputter impotent apologies at the one man who gave a damn about you even when they didn't.
He tells you to leave, and you can't blame him; in fact, you're grateful that he didn't ask you to stay, didn't try to talk you into changing your mind. You tell yourself that maybe he wasn't as blindsided by your decision as you thought; maybe he knew this was inevitable all along.
At least that's what you'd like to believe.
VI. Don't leave me here alone
His blood is on your hands. It's seeped into the cracks between your fingernails, drying into a rust-brown stain. You pick at it in the waiting room but it won't come off, and there's a part of you that doesn't want it to.
Even before the doctors come to tell you, you know. He's gone and it's your fault.
You sit alone in the hospital for a while after it's official, listing all the ways that you went wrong while chaos spins around you. You never should have involved Kyle in your family's never-ending drama. You should have known how it would end.
You should have believed Gabe when he told you that his father was falling in love with you.
Now that boy's an orphan and it's all because of you.
At some point you leave, get in your car, go home. You try to hold it together for your girls so that they can hold it together for their friend, but as you look into your family's faces, knowing all the mistakes you've made that have led up to this point, you start to unravel.
You collapse into your husband's arms, crying for your lover.