She dropped back onto the sofa, feeling as though she’d had the stuffing knocked clean out of her. “What are you talking about?”
“It’s pretty fucked up, right?”
“What are you saying, Austin?”
“I’m saying that your mum and dad are also my mum and dad.”
Sophia’s stomach somersaulted. “How so?”
“Our mum got pregnant too young and decided to give up on me, give me to her parents and pretend like I was theirs.”
Sophia fought off the violent urge to be sick by talking in almost a whisper. “No. It can’t be true.”
“I wouldn’t lie to you, Sophia. I’m not like the rest of them.”
“How do you know all this?”
“Our parents told me. They’d saved the little nugget of information for my eighteenth birthday and then swung it at me like a wrecking ball.”
“Is that why you ran away?”
Austin nodded. “And it’s why I didn’t plan on coming back.”
A clear vision of a tiny Sophia surrounded by red birthday balloons and lying face down on Austin's bed entered her head and brought tears to her eyes all over again. It hadn't been her fault that he’d left. The party had been the perfect day she’d planned for him, but the people there had all been lying to both of them.
“Itake it you had no luck then?” The guy in the boater hat asked when he strolled back into the beach cafe where he’d grabbed a coffee this morning.
Brodie shook his head.
“Do you want something a bit stronger? No offence, but you look like you need it.”
“Sure. Why not?”
The guy bobbed under the counter and resurfaced with a bottle of brandy. “There’s not much in it, but it might just take the edge off.”
Brodie gulped down the alcohol in one go and the guy passed him a knowing glance.
“She must be pretty special,” the stranger mused.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“When you’re that desperate to find someone, it can only be about a chick,” he shrugs.
“She’s my wife,” Brodie said without hesitation. Pride flooded through his veins at the thought of her, followed by a fresh rush of whatever the hell he was feeling. Anger? Disappointment? At this point, he wished he was feeling either of those crushing emotions, because it would have been better than the numbness he was experiencing from head to toe.
The only sensation that evoked any kind of physical response was the taste of the brandy on his lips and the burn as it eased down his throat.
“Then take the bottle.” The guy pushed the bottle toward him without need for explanation and Brodie noticed he was wearing a gold wedding band on his left index finger. The sight of it was a kick in the gut for him as it caused him to wonder how long he had been married for and whether he’d had a happy life with the woman, he loved by his side.
Each question triggered a reminder like an alarm clock blasting in his ear first thing on a Sunday morning. He was running out of time. Would he still wear a wedding band after her?
“No,” he said out loud. Refusing to explore the possibilities of a life without her, he grabbed the bottle from the countertop.
For Brodie, there was no after.