Authors: Lucy Clark
‘How long did it take for you to realise?’
‘About twelve months, I’m sorry to say. You’d think as a doctor I’d have picked up the signs and symptoms sooner.’
‘You were no doubt very busy at the hospital, working all hours, and, believe me, Daina could be quite convincing when it suited her.’
Sean nodded. ‘You sound as though you know exactly how I felt.’
‘Let me guess. Whenever you tried to question her about things, she’d tell you that you were overreacting or that you’d grasped the wrong end of the stick. She’d give you just enough attention, indicating she understood what was happening, then she’d expertly turn the tables so that you were the one in the wrong, making you feel guilty and filled with remorse.’
Sean was astounded at just how well Jane articulated what he’d experienced, living with Daina.
‘It’s very difficult when you’re emotionally involved with someone, when you love them, to realise they’re manipulating you.’
‘Yes.’ He nodded slowly and exhaled. ‘It wasn’t until Daina started trying to turn me against my parents and siblings that I began to realise there wasn’t something wrong with
, it was
’ He spread his hands wide. ‘I knew what she’d said about my sisters couldn’t possibly be true. I know them so well, we’re a very close-knit family and when I discussed things openly with my sisters...well, it was then the blinkers finally came off.’
‘But you were still married to her for almost six years, Sean.’
‘She was my wife, Jane. She was mentally ill. I couldn’t just abandon her.’
‘I doubt she felt the same way about you.’ The words were out of Jane’s mouth before she could stop them and as the pedestrian light finally turned green she set off across the road. ‘I’m sorry if that sounds harsh,’ she continued as they started walking down the other side of the street, ‘but I know Daina. I know the way she could manipulate and twist the situation and I know that even if you loved her, even if you tried to get her help, she would have done little to actually help herself.’
Jane glanced across at him, hoping she hadn’t overstepped the mark of this new level of friendship they seemed to be building. ‘I’m sorry if what I’ve said offends you but—’
‘No. You’re absolutely right,’ he interjected. ‘But I’ve been raised to appreciate the value of family and, as my wife, Daina was my family. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I hadn’t done everything I could to help her.’
‘What did you try?’ Jane asked as they neared the toy store.
‘I organised appointments for her with mental health specialists. The first few times she refused to turn up and would often disappear for days or even weeks, not coming home and worrying me to the point of despair.’
‘Yeah.’ Her words were soft and she stopped under the shade of a nearby tree and looked up at Sean, who stood with his hands shoved into his pockets, his face drawn with remembered pain. ‘Hiding from the truth.’
‘A few times, though, I did manage to get her admitted to a clinic where she stayed for a few weeks, receiving medication for her condition, and it looked as though it was working.’
‘But the instant she was discharged, after convincing everyone that she really was fine, things would begin to change again?’
‘Yes.’ Sean raked one hand through his hair. ‘I tried everything I could to get her help but her problems, and she received so many diagnoses over the years, weren’t easy to overcome if she wasn’t willing to help herself.’
‘Instead, everyone around the person suffers.’
Sean looked at Jane with concern as she spoke. She was looking down at the ground and when he reached out, lifting her chin so he could see her eyes, he saw pain reflected there. ‘She hurt you a lot, didn’t she?’ It was a statement more than a question but Jane shrugged one shoulder, stepping back from his touch. Sean dropped his hand back to his side and watched her for another moment, seeing the years of unhappiness Jane had probably endured at the hands of her sister.
‘So what finally ended it? You’ve already told me you were divorced before Daina passed away. What was it that made you end that toxic relationship?’
‘Toxic. That’s a good word for it.’ Sean shoved both hands into his trouser pockets again and shifted his feet. ‘She was pregnant with Spencer and at first she kept telling me how delighted she was, how this baby would change everything, make everything better between us, but it was just another one of her lies.’
Jane remained silent, watching the different array of emotions cross his face. Confusion, hurt, dejection, anger.
‘I came home one day to find her gone. Usually when she left, or ran away, she’d pack a bag but this time nothing was missing. I checked the usual places, the different friends she relied on, but none of them knew where she was. Then two weeks later she came back home and seemed to be all right. She said she’d been confused, that she wanted to have the baby and that she loved me.’
Jane sighed. ‘I know where she went during that time, Sean.’
She nodded. ‘Daina came to see me. I was living in Melbourne and she’d somehow found me and turned up on my doorstep, saying she needed a place to stay for the night. As usually happened when Daina was around, all she talked about was herself, that to start off with she’d thought she’d wanted a baby, that it might be fun, but that she’d been in the shopping centre where a baby had been crying. Constantly crying, not stopping, and she realised she didn’t want a baby after all. She said she’d tried to get an abortion but she was too far along with the pregnancy. The abortion clinics had turned her away.’ Jane sighed heavily. ‘That was why she’d come to see me.’
Sean gulped. ‘She wanted you to do an abortion!’
‘What did you say?’
‘That she was a fool. That she was too selfish to see that she had it all. She had good looks, a loving husband and was now going to have a child. I told her I was jealous of her. That seemed to feed her ego enough and she started talking about keeping the baby. It was all I could think of to ensure she didn’t do something else to try and terminate the pregnancy.’
‘How many weeks gestation was she?’
‘What happened after that?’
‘She left, telling me she was going to return home to her wonderful life with her loving husband. I hoped it was the truth.’
‘And at thirty-three weeks I returned from a late shift at the hospital to discover her lying at the bottom of the stairs.’
‘She was drifting in and out of consciousness and she was cold. She’d sustained a concussion and at one point it did look as though she might lose the baby.’
‘Obviously, Spencer managed to pull through.’
At the mention of his son, Sean smiled. ‘He’s a tough little lad. Resilient.’ The smile slowly faded as he met Jane’s gaze. ‘After his birth, Daina admitted to me that she hadn’t accidentally fallen down the stairs as I’d presumed.’
Jane gasped, covering her mouth as she whispered, ‘She’d thrown herself down voluntarily.’
He nodded. ‘Yes.’
‘I finally saw the real Daina. After almost six years of my life, during which I’d tried everything I could to make her happy, to give her what she wanted, to try and please her, I saw her true self. She admitted that she’d continued drinking and even taking drugs throughout the pregnancy in the hope that the baby would abort spontaneously, but it hadn’t so, in her mind, terminating the pregnancy herself was the next logical conclusion.’
‘She always had such a convoluted way of thinking.’
‘Yes.’ He looked at Jane. ‘You understand completely.’ He reached out and took her hand in his. Jane tried not to react to the warmth that shot up her arm and burst into a mass of tingles throughout her entire body. Why on earth did one simple touch from him affect her in such a way?
‘I’ve never been able to talk to anyone else about Daina,’ he continued, completely unaware of how she was feeling. She wanted to pull her hand away but knew that would raise more questions than anything else. Instead, she focused on what he was saying. ‘Not even my parents, as close as we are, really grasped the full level of Daina’s vindictiveness. Sure, they could see she was a little unstable at times but she was quite the actress and played us all.’
‘Yes.’ Jane shifted back a little, the action causing Sean to casually release her hand. She quickly grasped the toy catalogue from her bag, needing something to hold onto, trying desperately to concentrate on what he was saying rather than the way he was making her feel.
Even her own parents hadn’t understood the full extent of Daina’s moods, hadn’t seen the way she’d emotionally bullied Jane for years prior to the accident. Now, with Sean, Jane was finally coming to realise, just as he was, that someone else
understood. It provided them with an instant bond, even though it was formed through negative experiences.
‘Spencer,’ Sean continued, ‘was in the neonate intensive care unit for the next three months but he was a fighter. After the delivery Daina was kept in overnight for observation and was then discharged, but before she left the hospital I told her our marriage was over. I would be filing for divorce as soon as possible and that if she didn’t agree, if she did anything to contest it, I would have her charged with attempted manslaughter of our child.’
‘You were angry.’
‘I was livid, not only at her but at myself. I couldn’t believe I’d been such a fool and for such a long time.’
‘You made up rational excuses for her behaviour,’ Jane offered.
‘Exactly.’ He spread his arms wide. ‘I can’t believe how...freeing it is to talk to you like this, Jane. You understand.’
Sean paused for a moment, looking at her as though he was seeing her for the time. She was not merely Daina’s sister or Spencer’s aunt...she was Jane, a woman who had clearly been through some terrible emotional experiences but instead of allowing them to make her weak had drawn strength from them, working hard and specialising in treating children with eating disorders who were also lost. She was trying to make a difference in the world and that realisation made him appreciate her even more.
after a long moment. They’d stood there, staring at each other, and Jane found herself becoming a little self-conscious, especially as Sean seemed to be looking at her as though he’d just discovered a rare treasure. Surely that couldn’t be right. Jane had never classified herself as a rare anything. ‘We have to do something,’ he continued as he started walking again.
‘For your birthday,’ he stated, as though it was completely obvious.
Jane realised he was changing the subject and she was more than happy for that to occur. Still, the thought of having someone actually plan something for her birthday was more than she could contemplate right now. ‘Oh, no. It’s fine.’ She brushed his words away. ‘Focusing on Spencer is better. You only turn seven once and it’s a big deal in a boy’s life...or so I’ve gathered from my young patients over the years.’
For some reason he felt a strange sense of responsibility for Jane’s happiness. Although Daina had torn his life to shreds, he’d had the support of his parents and siblings to help him through, especially where Spencer was concerned. Jane had had no one. If he didn’t do something for her birthday, who would? Sean decided it would be best not to pursue the matter at the moment but he also made a note to ensure that this year Jane would have a birthday she wouldn’t forget.
‘So when would you like to meet Spencer?’ Sean asked, as they continued down the street towards the toy store.
‘I was going to leave that up to you. I don’t want Spencer to be all nervous and worried about meeting a new aunty. I don’t want it to be a “Surprise! You have a new relative” sort of thing.’
Sean laughed at her words. ‘It wouldn’t be like that. He knows he has an Aunt Jane, he’s seen a picture of you—’
‘Really? You have a picture of me?’
‘I believe you were in a few that were taken at the funeral.’
‘Spencer’s not completely in the dark about your existence.’
‘Good to know...and thank you, Sean.’
‘For telling him about me. For not allowing me to be overlooked, even though things didn’t work out with Daina.’ Her words were filled with gratitude. As he held the door for her to enter the toy store, he thought it odd. Of course he wasn’t going to hide her existence from his son. That would not only be dishonest but also cruel. Why would Jane even think he’d do—?
He stopped his thoughts. Daina. She’d said some terrible things to him about Jane, so no doubt she’d said some terrible things about him to Jane. Jane had grown up in the shadow of her very pretty, very dominant big sister and he had the distinct feeling that she’d been overlooked more than once during her childhood.
It made him want to introduce her to Spencer this afternoon but perhaps she was right and that he should at least prime his son first, even though he knew Spencer would do nothing except accept the situation his father presented. He was a very well-adjusted boy and if his father said it was OK, then it would be OK. The knowledge filled Sean’s heart with paternal pride.
As he watched Jane walk around the toy store, picking up things here and there, he quickly went through the rest of his weekly schedule in his mind.
‘How about Friday afternoon?’ he said as he came up behind Jane, who was looking at a remote-controlled dinosaur and giggling.
‘Friday afternoon? To meet Spencer?’ She gulped. ‘That’s in...two days’ time.’
‘Well, I was going to suggest this afternoon but I know you have meetings so it wouldn’t work out.’
‘This afternoon?’ She gulped and stared at him with wide eyes.
‘But then I thought that perhaps both of you might need to get used to the idea.’
‘I would do it,’ she said quickly, in case he thought she was backing out. ‘I would come this afternoon. Don’t think I wouldn’t. It’s just that I’ve thought about this and wanted this for so long that to actually have a dream come true and—’