"Charlotta wants us to try again," Sue said.
The words fell heavy on the tangled sheets and tangled limbs. Alice buried her face close against her lover, feeling his heartbeat which was now accelerated by more than physical exertion. When she finally answered, she tried to keep the heartbreak out of her voice.
"What did you tell her?"
"I said I didn't know how. She said she meant really try, for Lottie's sake." There was a hitch in his voice. "She said she'd ended things with Mortimer. I said I'd think about it."
Alice crawled up so she could kiss him in the dark. The lights were off, so everything was simply by touch. "If she's willing to really try, then I think you should. You loved her once."
"I love you now," Sue said, tangling his hands in her hair. It shouldn't hurt so much to say those words, but his heart wasn't free. It had been wrapped in chains for years, tied to a woman he didn't love by a child that he adored.
"I know," Alice said. She realized that she'd always known, though this was the first time he'd spoken the words. "You owe it to Lottie to at least try. A real try, without me."
There was no sleep that night. They cried and they laughed and they loved as they celebrated everything they'd been to each other. And in the morning, they said goodbye.
The weeks that followed were a sort of slow torture for Delisle. She had control of the schedules, so she did her best to make sure she was never on the comm when Sue was on duty. It wasn't always possible. It wasn't always possible to avoid him in the Rec Centre or the Training Grounds or the Armoury. Whenever she saw him, it took all her strength not to stare, to devour him with her eyes, to watch to see if he stared at her and ached for her as much as she ached for him. It took every ounce of her strength.
But she did it.
For Sue, the weeks that followed were full of contradictions and capriciousness. Charlotta said she trusted him, but she asked him every day if he'd seen her. Sue told her the truth every day, and on the days he said 'yes' the grilling continued. How long had he seen her? Had they been alone together? Was she trying to get him back?
He endured it all for Lottie's sake. She was so happy at seeing her parents together again that he couldn't walk away. And Charlotta really was trying. It wasn't fooling either of them, but they kept it up, day after day, pretending to be in love in the hopes that if they pretended long enough, it would come true. Keeping up the charade took up every ounce of his strength.
But he did it.
They all knew it couldn't last. Even Lottie knew in her own way, and she started anxiously monitoring her parents, making them gifts, trying to make them happy again.
The facade started to crack after Lottie's craft class started. Sue dropped her off on the first day, and a few of the parents went out to coffee together. One of the mothers had a lot of information about some dance classes that were starting soon, so Sue sat down with her and transcribed the class dates. He never noticed that she bore a superficial resemblance to Alice.
"You were with her today!"
"What?" Sue's dumbfounded look was taken as a sign of guilt.
"Marisa saw you with her, at the coffee shop! You put Lottie in that class to make it easier to see her, didn't you?"
Sue had no recourse against irrationality like that. He simply shook his head sadly and walked out.
Charlotta apologized later, but the damage was done. It was getting harder and harder to make it work.
It ended with a crash. Of all the things that had ever put Sue in the infirmary, this was the most mundane. Someone ran a red light and plowed into his car after he'd dropped Lottie off for a birthday party. He was comatose for several days, and only in and out of consciousness for another few weeks. Sometimes when he opened his eyes, he saw Charlotta, and once he thought he saw Alice, but neither seemed real to him in his drugged state.
"Lottie? Is she hurt?" he often asked. Charlotta had refused to bring Lottie to visit the hospital, convinced she shouldn't see her daddy in such a state.
"She's fine. She wasn't even in the car," he was reminded often, by his doctors and nurses and visitors, but every day that passed without him seeing her convinced him otherwise.
"You need to go to him," Vasquez told Alice. "He'll believe it from you, if you tell him."
Alice shook her head. "Me going will just make things worse."
It was Jyarl who finally took matters into his own hands. He forged a permission note and picked up Lottie from school. Yeah, it was kidnapping, and he'd rip anyone limb from limb who tried it with Jefferies. But he'd also rip anyone limb from limb who kept him from seeing his daughter, so he figured it evened out.
Lottie had been much more traumatized by not seeing Sue at all than by seeing him hooked up to tubes and covered with bandages. The visit did wonders for them both, however frightened and furious it had made Charlotta at the time. She was prepared to scream at Jyarl, but Lottie was hugging him goodbye and thanking him for taking him to see her Daddy and when Jyarl turned a thunderous glare to Charlotta, she quickly decided to drop it.
The day Sue left the hospital, Charlotta had news for him.
"I'm pregnant," she said.
Sue didn't know how to feel. He knew he should be happy, but it felt like a lead weight in his gut, tying him down by more chains. But before he could register this, she had another blow for him.
"It's not yours. You were so hurt, and Lottie was so scared, and it was all too much for me to handle alone." She looks down at her hands. "I'm leaving, Sue."
There was a long silence. "What about Lottie?"
"She needs you, Sue. We'll work something out."
Sue was ashamed to return to Alice, and she didn't know if he still cared for her. Vasquez let them act like idiots for a week, and then arranged for them to get "accidentally" locked together in the armoury.
The bride was beautiful in cream lace. The groom rather dapper in his gray tux. The flowergirl stole the show with her pretty blonde curls.
Sue sat near the back to avoid blocking anyone's view as he watched Charlotta and Mortimer speak their vows. The family breakup hadn't been easy, and there were still times that Lottie wanted her parents back together, but she liked Alice and Mortimer, and she was thrilled that she was getting a baby brother or sister soon.
When the bride kissed the groom, Sue put an arm around Alice and squeezed her tight. The chains had finally fallen from his heart, and he was free to love again.