Troubled Sincerity

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Bonus - 4

| 2 weeks after the Epilogue |

| Connors POV |

Green leaves whisk past me as I walk down the lonely sidewalk. My hands are shoved into my jean pockets, and there’s birds chirping someplace in the distance.

As I walk up toward the entrance of the nearby park, I spot Mark’s car parked in the parking lot. He’s leaning against the trunk of his car, his arms crossed over his chest with one leg propped up underneath his body.

“About time you show up.” He comments, letting his leg and arms drop as he walks up to greet me.

We pull each other in for a quick hug, which is more like a tap on the back, and then we walk over to a nearby picnic table to sit down.

“Sorry I’m late, my flight was delayed, and Brooke kept me longer than she needed to.” I say, pulling my pack of cigarettes from my pocket.

I flew out to L.A. for another one of Mark and I’s meetings. We try to schedule them regularly, but this meeting was requested specifically by Mark. Apparently, Marissa didn’t take my news at the reunion very well, even though sources tell me she’s been seeing a lot of Riley here recently. My guess is she wasn’t too upset over my news.

“Since when do you smoke?” Mark asks, a bewildered look on his face.

“Honestly? I couldn’t tell you.” I shrug, taking the lighter from my pack and lighting up my first cigarette of the day. I inhale and then let it out slowly, smoke engulfing my face as I glance at Mark.

“Care to explain?” He raises an eyebrow, swatting smoke from in front of his nose.

“Things have just been… stressful, lately.” I finally say, taking another needed hit of my cigarette.

“Come on man, just last week you said that everything was fine. By the way, who the fuck is Brooke and why haven’t you told me that you’re married? What the hell happened there?” Mark asks, his tone accusing.

The truth is, I wasn’t planning on telling anyone about Brooke, but when I saw Marissa at the high school reunion two weeks ago, something inside of me just snapped.

We didn’t exactly leave things on good terms. I was unsure of my decision to break-up with her at first, but eventually I just couldn’t hide my emotions anymore. I honestly didn’t feel the same as when we first got together back in high school.

When your relationship becomes more work, and less genuine, I think it’s pretty safe to say that things are over.

What Marissa probably failed to mention to anyone, was that we argued constantly. We argued about stupid, little things that to a sane person, wouldn’t even matter. Sometimes it would be as small as forgetting to replace the toilet paper roll, or leaving a piece of clothing on the floor. The arguments would just turn into screaming matches, and in the end, neither of us ever really “won”.

During our sophomore year of college, we decided to get an apartment near campus, so we wouldn’t have to deal with dorm rooms. We lived together for two years after that, but once we finally graduated from college, things drastically changed.

The screaming become more expected than the laughing. The accusing became more expected than the kissing, and the resentment became more expected than the love.

I know Marissa blamed me for how everything ended, but truth be told, it was both of us. We gradually fell out of love, and I’m so sorry that it happened, but I can’t change how I feel.

“I met Brooke when I first moved to South Dakota a few years ago. We became friends, and slowly moved toward dating a short time after that.” I begin to explain, gaining Mark’s full attention.

“That still doesn’t explain the secret marriage.” He challenges while resting his elbows on the picnic table.

“I was getting to that.” I roll my eyes, feeling slightly on edge.

Mark raises an eyebrow, patiently waiting for my full explanation.

“The truth is, Brooke is originally from a small area over in Eastern Europe. Her parents brought her here to the US back when she was just a baby. They brought her here illegally.” I say slowly, making sure that Mark understands what I’m trying to tell him.

“Jesus, Connor, it’s a sham wedding?” Mark whispers, though it’s not a secret anymore, so I’m not sure why he’s whispering to begin with.

“No, I do love Brooke, but with that being said… marriage could have waited a little longer.” I admit, letting a sigh escape my lips.

“So you did it, to keep her in the country?” Mark clarifies, seeming to relax a little bit.

“Yeah, you could say that. I mean I wasn’t exactly ready for marriage, but when she said that they would take her back forcefully, I just couldn’t let that happen. Things had just started to become serious between us, and I don’t know… I couldn’t say goodbye.” I shrug, taking the last hit of my cigarette, before tossing it out onto the grass.

“Wow, that’s… noble.” Mark says, giving me a short smile. “How are things between you now?”

“They’re great. Brooke is amazing. I haven’t told anyone about her yet, because she was a little skeptical at first. She only trusted me. I guess now, I don’t need to hide anything anymore. When I saw Marissa at the reunion, I don’t know what happened to me. She looked great. Amazing, even. I didn’t know if she was seeing anyone, but she had this weird glow about her. I just wanted her to know that I was happy too. I didn’t think it would come out the way that it did, so harshly and in front of everyone, that was a dick move on my part. Still, I’m sort of relieved that everyone knows now.” I say, giving Mark a tired glance.

“I mean, I get it. You didn’t want to be the only one without a nice life painted for the world to see at the reunion. I just wish you would’ve went about it a different way, that’s all.” Mark laughs, running a hand through his mop of hair.

“I know, I do feel bad about that. I didn’t want to hurt Marissa, but to be completely honest, I didn’t think she’d still care after all this time.” I admit, my eyebrows turned in confusion.

“Well, I’m not at liberty to disclose this information, simply because my wife may end my life…” Mark trails off, giving me a sheepish smile.

“What is it?” I smirk, leaning forward a bit.

“My sources tell me that Riley and Marissa are actually an item now.”

I’m honestly taken back by this news. I had no idea. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. I sort of suspected whenever Naveah told me that Marissa and Riley had been spending a lot of extra alone time together, but I honestly thought it was just my wild imagination.

I suppose it wasn’t so wild after all.

“Wow. That’s… different.” I finally say. “How long has that been going on?”

“Apparently not long after the reunion. I don’t know the details. Naveah has those. She barely keeps me in the loop when it comes to her ‘girl talk’.”

“Huh. Marissa and Riley… I’m sorry that’s just so strange to say. They hated each other at one point, didn’t they?” I ask, trying to come to terms with the situation.

“Apparently not anymore.” Mark shrugs, “Although they both seem to have a deep hatred for you, so that probably brought them closer together.”

I give Mark a deadpanned look, to which he only smiles in return.

“I suppose I’ll allow myself to be the bad guy where Marissa’s concerned. Maybe someday in the future, things won’t be so hostile. Anyway, I guess moving to South Dakota was a good idea.” I nod, giving Mark a peaceful glance.

“How noble of you.” Mark chuckles, reaching for my pack of cigarettes and my lighter. I watch in horror as he tosses the pair into a nearby trashcan, shooting him a glare as I do so.

“What the hell? Those aren’t cheap!” I exclaim, standing up to fetch them from the trash.

Mark steps in front of me, placing a hand on my shoulder, stopping me in my tracks.

“Leave it, man. You don’t need that shit.”

“I can’t believe you. You used to smoke.” I challenge, shrugging Mark’s hand off my shoulder.

“Yeah, used to. As in, not currently. As in, in the past. As in, never again.” Mark says slowly, apparently trying to get the words embedded into my brain.

“Alright, alright. You made your point.” I sigh, walking over to sit back down, this time on top of the picnic table.

“What’s going on? Why the sudden urge to light up? Things not right with the Mrs.?” Mark asks, taking a seat beside me on top of the picnic table.

“Brooke and I have been having some issues. It’s nothing major, but I just wish things were different. She says that I don’t show her enough emotion or whatever, but I try like hell to be everything she needs. A guy can only do so much, you know? I just wish I knew what she wanted. She tells me vague things, never really gets to the fucking point. It’s exhausting.”

I haven’t told any of this to anyone, until now. Mark is my best friend, so I know he won’t judge me, but I still couldn’t bring myself to tell him any of this before now. I’m pissed at myself for hiding the wedding from him too. Brooke and I went to the court house to get married, we didn’t even have a party to celebrate. It wasn’t exactly how I pictured my wedding day, but I don’t regret my decision. Brooke is different, sure, but she’s also beautifully unique, and I love her.

Relationships are supposed to have bumpy roads, I guess I just never expected it to feel like this. Brooke and I have a very long road ahead, but I know that I made the right choice. I know that my feelings for her are genuine, and I can’t be any more sincere than that.

“Do you think being married to Naveah is all sunshine and rainbows? We have our fair share of disagreements, hell we even yell sometimes… it’s all a part of being married. I guess there’s just really no other way to put it. When you’re with someone every single day, it tests your boundaries, your limits, and your sanity. Nothing is ever really simple, even if it appears to be. You’re going to test each other, challenge each other, maybe even scream at each other from time to time… but you can’t let it break you. A strong marriage is built on a strong foundation. If you have that, you’re golden.” Mark explains carefully, forcing me to listen to every word.

I can’t say I disagree. Marriage is work, sure, but it’s not supposed to be hard labor. It’s not supposed to break you.

“How was it when you had Chloe? Did that soften the amount of disagreements?” I suddenly ask, thinking about their adorable little girl. I’ve only seen her a handful of times, but she’s a good kid.

Definitely takes after her mother, that’s for sure.

“Chloe definitely brought us closer together, but I wouldn’t recommend a child to fix your problems. You have to fix those first, before you bring a kid into the mix. Trust me. Raising a kid is hard enough without the added stress from your relationship getting in the way. Make sure you and Brooke are in a good place, before you start planning to reproduce.” Mark laughs, patting me on the shoulder.

“Yeah, I hear you. Thanks man. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Brooke sooner, I just really didn’t know how to explain it without sounding like a complete lunatic.” I laugh, already feeling a little bit better.

“Well next time, I want the damn details right after they happen. Lunatic, or not.” Mark demands, pointing his finger at me.

“You got it, boss.” I nod, giving him a friendly smile.

“Anyway, since you’re here for the weekend, want to hit up a bar?” Mark asks, standing up from the picnic table.

“Sure, let’s go, but somewhere that also serves food because I’m starving.” I nod, standing up beside him as we walk to our cars.

Hopefully this weekend away will be exactly what I need.

“Brooke? I’m home!” I shout as I enter our loft.

“In here!”

I follow the sound of her voice, until I’m standing in our bedroom, just outside of our private bathroom.

“How was your weekend away, love?” She asks, turning around from the sink to face me. I walk over and lean down for a kiss, her full, plump lips greeting me in return. Her short, black hair fell just above her shoulders, her bangs nearly covering her pale blue eyes.

“It was good. I had a nice, long chat with Mark. I told him everything.” I admit, my eyes boring into Brooke’s.

“Really? How’d he take it?” She smirks, reaching her arms up to wrap around my neck.

“He was a little shocked at first, but that was to be expected. I think he’s genuinely happy for us though.” I smile, leaning down to steal another peck from her lips.

“Oh I’m sure. It’s not every day you learn your best friend was secretly married and didn’t tell anyone.” She scolds, having wanted to tell everyone from the very beginning.

“I know, I know. I’m sorry. I just wasn’t sure how to tell them.” I frown, finally taking a step back.

“I understand, I suppose what’s done is done. I’m glad he took it well, and I’m sure you’re glad to have gotten it off your chest.”

I watch as she leans her back against the sink, blocking it from my view.

“Were you doing something in here when I first walked in? I can step out if you need me to.” I ask her, causing her eyes to slightly widen in realization.

I catch her discreetly glance behind her, but her eyes are back on me just as I notice.

“Well…” She trails off, her pale face turning a slight shade of pink.

“What is it babe?”

“Speaking of getting things off our chest… I have some news.” She says, a nervous smile taking over her lips.

I can tell she’s struggling to say it, whatever “it” is. I can feel my nerves spike, the anticipation of what’s to come a little troubling.

“Do you remember that fight we had about, two months ago? I think it was about you wanting to skip your high school reunion whenever you got the invite in the mail?” Brooke says, causing my mind to go back to that day, because I did remember it.

I really didn’t want to go, but Brooke convinced me that I may regret it later, if I didn’t.

“Yes.” I nod, confusion clear on my face as to why that particular day is relevant. If I remember correctly, we spent a great deal of that night making up, if you catch my deviant drift.

“Well…” Brooke says slowly, cautiously stepping to the side, revealing the sink to me.

“What? It’s a nice sink?” I shrug.

“No, you moron, look inside the sink!” Brooke sighs, pointing to where my eyes need to be.

I step forward and glance at the sink, finally seeing the small white stick resting at the bottom. The two, dark blue lines staring back at me.

“You’re… you’re-“, but she cuts me off.

Pregnant. Yes. I’m around six or seven weeks.”

I turn to face her, my face a look of pure shock, but it doesn’t last long.

“You’re pregnant. We’re pregnant. We’re going to have a baby?” I blab like an idiot.

“That’s right. This is the second test I’ve taken. I’m going to make a doctor’s appointment for the end of this week.” She nods, cautiously taking in my behavior, probably wondering if I’m going to react badly.

Only one thought crosses my mind, and at full speed I’m overcome with a mass of different emotions. Nervousness, happiness, anxious, terrified, all bundled up into one mess of a man.

I’m going to be a dad.

Without even realizing, I take another step forward and instantly wrap my arms around Brooke, lifting her up off the tile floor and spinning her around gently. “We’re going to be parents!”

“We are!” She smiles, laughing as I put her back down onto the floor.

“I can’t believe it. Me, a father. We’re going to have a baby!” I blab some more, causing Brooke’s grin to widen.

“You’re being incredibly cute right now, Con.” She comments, pulling me in for a kiss.

I don’t hesitate to kiss her back, immediately tangling my fingers into her hair, pulling her closer to me.

It is in this exact moment that I realize, it was all worth it. Everything.

I suddenly realize that I never truly needed anyone’s approval for my actions, even Mark’s. I am my own person, and what I decide to do with my own life isn’t of anyone else’s concern. Sure, they can give their respectful opinions, but at the end of the day I know what I want.

What I want is Brooke. What I want is this child. I want my family.

Nothing has ever really made much sense in my life. Not with Naveah, not with Marissa, and not even with Mark. A lot of people gave me shit for deciding to let the past be the past. They were so shocked at how I could ever forgive him for what he did to me back in high school. They said I was crazy for trusting him again, but did that stop me? No.

Sure, I battled with that decision for a long time, especially after Naveah and I officially broke up. I even battled with how people treated me for breaking up with Marissa after college. People didn’t understand, people didn’t get why I did what I did, and why should they?

They don’t live my life, only I do.

I’ve made each decision in my life with a lot of thought and consideration. I don’t decide things on a whim, or based off of an intense emotion. I let things settle, I think things rationally. I make sure of each decision that I make, because I don’t want there to be any regrets, and there aren’t any.

Our lives don’t always go according to plan. Things happen, people change. You can love someone so much it hurts one day, and then the next you find yourself questioning everything. It’s a difficult, yet beautiful way to live. You don’t always know what’s going to happen, or what may lie around the corner, but you should at least always figure out a plan.

Think about things. Analyze. Don’t take the easy way out. Live your life for you, and for nobody else.

And maybe, just maybe, things will come together exactly how you want them to, even if it doesn’t always happen the way that you first picture it.

All you need is a little bit of faith.

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