Clark was living through a nightmare.
There was quite a bit of Clark's backstory that ended up on the cutting room floor. It makes sense because this is Nichelle's story, but Clark had a bit of personal baggage to work through, and I'm sharing that here. Keep in mind these are unedited scenes from this series steamy romance books.
Conversation between Clark and Franny and a little background with his family dynamics:
“So, subject change.” Her shoulders tightened. “Mom’s going to call you and I wanted to warn you.”
Clark dropped his head into his hands and groaned. This conversation was going from bad to worst. Franny’s posture change should have clued him in. “Why?”
“Aunt Corrine is coming to town next week. She wants us to stay at the house overnight.”
The snort that came out of Clark surprised him. “No. I will come for dinner as I always do, but I’m not spending one night in that house. Why would she want me to?”
“I’ll let her explain, but I wanted to give you a heads-up because I know how you are about them. She’ll be calling you tonight or early in the morning.”
Clark was living through a nightmare. He’d already unintentionally betrayed the woman he really wanted to be his partner, and now his mother wanted to pretend to be one big happy family. That was too much. Then he honed in on something his sister said. “What do you mean you know how I am about them?”
“How you don’t really care for them too much.”
“They ignored me my whole life so the feeling is mutual.”
“Honestly, Clark. I know I wasn’t there for the early years, but all I hear from them are regrets that they let you spend so much time with Oma who never approved of their artistic lifestyle. That she molded you to be more like our grandparents.”
Clark’s face heated and his hands shook so hard, he nearly dropped the microscope slide in his hand. “So now they’re blaming the only people who ever cared about me?”
“I care about you. I love you.”
Those words softened his rage. It wasn’t completely gone, but he was loved by at least one person in this world, and that meant something. He placed a hand on Franny’s shoulder, and squeezed. “I know. I love you too. I didn’t mean it like that.”
Franny placed her hand on top of Clark’s. “Yeah, but Mom and Dad love you too. You never give them a chance to show it. They walk on eggshells around you so you don’t get angrier at them. I’ve been telling them they need to talk to you. To finally bring everything out so you can heal.”
Clark let her go, deflated, and walked over to his desk, putting some distance between him and his sister. “You weren’t there, Franny. There were weeks when I wouldn’t see them. They’d be off at one of Dad’s gallery showings or Mom’s photography shoots, and they wouldn’t even call to check on me.”
“How do you know, Clark? Because Oma said so?”
“Why would she lie? If they thought so, why would they continue leaving me there? The obvious truth is that better opportunities arose than to be bothered with me. When you came along, they all of a sudden seemed to make time to be parents.”
Franny’s phone buzzed, and she glanced at the text. “Shit, I gotta go, but I hope you’ll consider staying over. It’s only one night.”
Clark opens his heart (and his eyes) to the parents who are so different than himself:
An unsettling feeling ran through Clark.
Clark took a deep breath and rang the doorbell to his parent’s house. He hadn’t wanted to come, but his love for Nichelle caused a turnabout. Even though he’d lost her, he still admired her. The way she cared for others and supported her family and friends. And forgave her parents. Not just her adoptive parents who hadn’t disclosed the truth of her adoption, but her birth parents too. She didn’t hold a grudge against the mother who continued to ignore her existence or the brother who wasn’t strong enough to accept the truth. Nichelle had love for everyone in her life, and he came to realize, he wanted that too. If she could forgive her parents, he could try with his own parents. He wasn’t sure how a relationship with them would proceed, but he was willing to at least try.
His mother answered the door and gave him a tentative smile. “Hi Clark. Happy birthday.” She moved toward him with her arms raised, then thought better of it, and reached for his roller.
“Thanks, Mom. I’ve got this.” He stepped inside and placed an arm around his mother’s back. It was as awkward as he imagined it would be but felt right as well. Too many times, he wanted to feel his mother’s arms wrap around him and hold him close. Eventually, he stopped wanting it, and pushed her away, sometimes physically shrugging out of her reach, putting distance between them. He patted her back, somewhat uncomfortably, but she pulled him closer, her head fitting snug in the crook of his shoulder.
When his mother pulled away, she wiped tears from her face.
“Are you okay?” He studied her. He hadn’t seen her in at least a year or more, despite living less than ten miles away. She possessed more lines in her face than the last time, and a deep divot in between her eyes, giving the appearance of a permanent scowl. When did happened? He hadn’t seen her smile often, but she usually didn’t frown either.
“Yes, I’m just happy to see you. I know your father will be too, so come in and I’ll show you to your room.”
He followed her down the long corridor leading to the downstairs guest bedrooms. There were three on that end of the house. Growing up, Clark hadn’t spent much time in that part of the house. His bedroom was upstairs next to his grandparent’s room. This was their home.
Soft music played from another room, probably the living room, and Clark wondered where everyone else was. He expected to at least hear his aunt talking with his father. And thought Franny would meet him at the door, but there was no sound other than the quiet music.
His mother stopped at a bedroom and flipped on the light switch. He nodded in approval. It was the smallest of the guest rooms but contained its own en suite bathroom. The room was decorated with one of his mother’s photographs, probably from a shoot somewhere in South America. Many of her photographs were taken there. It was a beautiful black-and-white of a cityscape he didn’t recognize.
He sat his bag down and turned to his mother. “Is Corrine here? Where is everyone?”
“They’re waiting in the dining room.”
An unsettling feeling ran through Clark. He didn’t know what to make of the strange silence. It was unnerving. Suddenly, he wished Nichelle was there with him. He ruined that though.
When they got to the dining room, there was a seafood feast waiting them. The table was laid out with grilled whole snapper and shrimp, lobster macaroni and cheese, shrimp Louie, and a steaming bowl of cioppino next to a platter of sourdough bread. His parents weren’t huge seafood eaters, so something else to add to his basket of anomalies. Clark counted the place settings, but still saw no people. He turned to his mother. “What’s going on? Where is everyone?”
A stream of people flowed into the room from the kitchen, smiling and laughing. “Happy birthday, Clark!”
Where it was eerily quiet before, now the room was bursting with activity. Clark’s face heated, and he blinked several times unbidden. His parents never cared about his birthday before. They hadn’t shared it with him since he became an adult, and as a child, not once did he have a party. Not that he procured any friends to invite anyway. In some ways, that hadn’t changed. Except, it had.
His father patted him on the back and sat at the table. His aunt went in for a strong hug. Franny was there, embracing him from the other side. There was only one person absent. And she was sorely missed.
Franny winked and released him. “Happy birthday, big brother. I hope you know how much you’re loved.”
Clark wasn’t completely convinced of his parents’ affection, but this was a firm step in the right direction. Never in his wildest imagination would he have thought his parents would have an event where he would be the center of attention. He was still shaking his head when he came upon his father. He reached out his hand to thank him, when his dad grabbed him up into a big hug. “We love you, son. And we’re sorry you ever doubted that.”
He was too choked up to answer but acknowledged his dad with a quick nod of his head.
Later, when all of the food was consumed, and he and Franny were perched on his bed in the guest room, Clark breathed a sigh of relief. For the first time in years, not since his grandparents died, he enjoyed being around his family. “Thank you. For this.”
Franny shook her head. “It was all Mom’s idea.”
Clark let out a deep sigh.
“What’s that for? Didn’t you enjoy yourself?”
His sister bit the side of her lip, clearly contemplating releasing some odd bit of information or the other.
“What is it, Franny?”
“I. Um. Well, I tried calling Nichelle to invite her, and when she realized it wasn’t sorority business, she shut me down. Wouldn’t even let me tell her about your party.”
Clark’s heart clinched. She really was done with him. He understood it on a surface level, but this drove the point home. “She’s upset with me and wants me to apologize. I don’t believe I was wrong.” He shrugged. “An impasse.”
“After getting to know her these past couple years, I felt you two would be perfect for each other. You’re so different, but in a complimentary way. Know what I mean?”
“She’s so good-natured, and easy-going. I wouldn’t ask you to apologize if you didn’t mean it. I know you wouldn’t, but are you sure you’re not wrong?”
Clark explained all the details of what went wrong. Starting from realizing Nichelle’s mother’s involvement to fighting against his feelings knowing he couldn’t tell her the truth to their last fight and her refusal to understand or forgive him.
He blinked. “What?”
“I get why you felt your integrity was on the line. But do you understand why you should have left her alone until all that mess was over? You didn’t have to date her.”
“I—” What Franny said was completely true. He warred with himself plenty of times about that very issue, hadn’t he? “Yes, I understand. Not being around her wasn’t an option. I tried, but I couldn’t.”
“Because you love her.”
“Yeah, but you see where you’re wrong.” Franny narrowed her eyes and crinkled her nose. “Right?”
Clark inhaled slowly and let it out. That much was true. Every stolen touch blurred the line. Or a kiss was crossing the line. By the time they joined, he was so far past the line, he’d forgotten there was a line. “Yes, I see now.”
“What’re you going to do about it?”
Clark nodded, and picked up his phone.
Franny stilled his hand. “Not tonight, and not over the phone. Make her understand how sorry you are. Really drive it home.”
Besides apologizing, Clark wasn’t sure what else would be required. His instinct said Franny wouldn’t be able to help him. He needed to figure it out for himself. But she was right, tonight over the phone wasn’t the correct direction. He’d sleep on it, and plan tomorrow.