Cassie took a deep breath as she leaned through the open window and punched a six digit code into the keypad mounted on the gatepost. Nick had wanted four numbers; she had insisted on six and Nick had found himself trapped on the wrong side of the gates more than once. He had never been much good with numbers.
The gates swung back smoothly and Cassie eased the car forward slowly, her heart-rate rising as she neared the house. She’d made the drive across town from her parent’s house in something of a daze, her mind a blur of imaginary conversations. Hot tears pricked her eyes as she parked behind Nick’s BMW and switched the engine off. She needed to pull herself together… and quickly.
Twisting the rearview mirror to face her, Cassie used her index finger to wipe a rogue tear from the top of her cheek and smoothed her eyeliner back into place. With a sigh, she brushed several loose strands of hair away from her face, tucking them as neatly as possible behind her ear.
“That will have to do,” she muttered to herself as she collected a small package from the passenger’s seat and slipped it into her purse.
Closing the car door behind her, Cassie crossed the yard and made her way quietly up the front steps. Nick’s Nike trainers lay haphazardly in front of the door and Cassie stepped tiredly over them. Nick would break his neck before he learned to leave his shoes tidily.
Her house key slid easily into the lock and Cassie turned it together with the door handle, pushing the door open quietly. Footsteps thundered through the rooms upstairs as she turned to close the door and set her purse down on the antique chair in the foyer.
“Cassie?” Nick’s voice carried down the stairs. “Cass, is that you?”
Cassie’s words snagged in her throat as she tried to reply and she felt the sting of tears flooding her eyes again.
Her husband appeared at the top of the stairs, his blonde hair matted to his head and dripping onto his bare shoulders, a towel fastened around his waist.
“Cass… Thank God,” he breathed.
Silence filled the space between them as Cassie stared at the floor near her feet.
“I’ll be right down; just let me throw some clothes on…” Nick began, turning away.
“I’m not staying,” Cassie replied quickly and Nick froze. “I just came to give you this.”
Nick watched as his wife reached into her purse and pulled out the brown paper package.
“What is it?” he asked slowly, making his way down the stairs.
Cassie turned the package over in her hands, staring intently at it before lifting her head to meet Nick’s inquiring eyes.
“It’s a paternity test,” she said evenly, holding the package out to Nick.
“God, Cass… Can’t we sit and talk for a second?” he asked, his emotions betrayed by the cracking in his voice.
“You can do your part right now and have the other half Fed-Exed to Hannah,” Cassie continued. “She can take a swab from the baby and send it to the lab. Results only take a few days.”
Nick looked at the package Cassie still held out to him.
Cassie pushed the parcel towards him and Nick took it reluctantly.
“All the instructions are inside,” Cassie said quietly, picking up her purse and turning towards the door.
Nick placed the package carefully on the kitchen counter and took hold of Cassie by the arm.
“Cass… Don’t go. Please. Not yet.”
Cassie’s eyes drifted to his hand on her bare arm and Nick relaxed his grip, letting his arm fall to his side.
“Let’s just talk, baby. We can work this out.”
Cassie turned to face him, tears now freely streaming down her cheeks.
“This is too big for us, Nick,” she whispered. “I don’t even know you.”
Nick’s throat felt as if it was about to swell shut as he looked at his wife standing broken before him.
“Of course you do,” he replied quietly, fighting the urge to reach out to her again. “Cassie, I’m so sorry for all of this. I’m so, so sorry. But I’m the same person you’ve always known.”
“But you could be this kid’s father…”
“I know I could be, baby,” Nick continued. “And, as much as I want to, I can’t change that.”
Cassie’s knees buckled and Nick lunged to catch her as she crumpled to the floor, sobbing. Wrapping his arms around her, Nick pulled her close and smoothed her blonde hair as Cassie let her head rest on his shoulder.
“Shhh… Cass… It’s going to be okay,” he whispered, planting a gentle kiss on her forehead. “It’s all going to be okay.”
Nick had lost all feeling in his legs. The foyer had darkened and the porch light had switched itself on, casting a dim yellow beam through the window beside the door. Cassie had stopped crying a long time ago and now she breathed deep and even, still crumpled awkwardly on the floor, her arms around Nick’s waist. Nick shivered.
“Cassie?” he whispered, pulling back slightly to look at her. “Cass, I’m freezing.”
Cassie lifted her head slowly and squinted in the dark.
“What happened?” she asked.
“You fell asleep,” Nick replied, wincing as he straightened his legs. “A while ago.”
Cassie looked at her watch and inhaled sharply.
“It’s after seven. I’ve got to go.”
Nick watched from the floor, still struggling to move his leaden legs, as Cassie straightened her clothes and picked up her purse with trembling hands.
“You could stay and let me make you some dinner,” he said quietly. “You must be starving.”
“I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
“I don’t think you getting behind the wheel is such a good idea,” Nick countered. “You’re shaking.”
Cassie looked down at her hands. The trembling was undeniable.
“At least let me get you an orange juice or something,” Nick said, hauling himself to his feet. “You can’t drive like that. No heavy talk, I promise.”
Placing her purse on the chair once again, Cassie turned away from the door.
“Okay,” she conceded. “A juice would be good.”
“I’ll get dressed,” Nick replied, taking the stairs two at a time.
Cassie sighed as she walked into the living room and perched awkwardly on the edge of the sofa. She already felt as though the house was no longer hers – as though she was just a visitor in her own living room. It made her feel ill and she sank back against the sofa cushions, her hands resting on her stomach, silently willing it to stop churning. Closing her eyes tight, Cassie slowly leaned sideways until she was lying down, her hands still on her stomach. Sleep reclaimed her quickly.
“I’ve got…” Nick stopped in the living room doorway, orange juice in hand and looked at his sleeping wife. “Your juice…”
Setting the glass down carefully on the coffee table, he opened a drawer and pulled out a deep red throw. Laying it gently over her, he brushed Cassie’s hair away from her face and looked at her for a moment before he turned and left the room. She was home.