Dirty Secret (Older Man Younger Woman Romance)

By: Lila Younger

Serena

Honey, it’s when life seems darkest that you have to find the light.

It’s a stupid thing my dad used to say, and I have no idea why that popped into my head just now. I never really understood it, although he said it quite a few times just before he skipped out of my life, so maybe it was his cryptic way of trying to warn me as to what was going to happen? Well if it was, it was a really crappy way of doing it. But that was how he was. Somehow he knew he was charming, and he used it to get out of every little scrape in his life. There was nothing that was his fault. And when his mess became too big for his smile to get him out of, he took the coward’s way out, leaving the two of us as the scapegoats.

Bitterness wells up in my throat, and I have to squeeze my eyes shut to force the feeling out. I swore that I wouldn’t let my dad make me feel that way when I left Herman Springs, but coming back here has brought all the memories back. I open my eyes, and the little town laid out before me comes into view again. I remember every little bit of it, from the corner store where I used to buy snacks on the way home from school, to the clearing in the woods where Harrington Asphalt’s gravel pits lie. Matthew Harrington, I think for a fleeting moment, before the stab of betrayal forces me to put him aside too.

I push back from the half wall of the parking garage and turn away from the view. I might as well get this over with as soon as possible. My hands automatically hit the lock button on my VW one more time, even though I know I locked it. I pull open my purse and recheck my mother’s room. Okay, enough stalling, I tell myself. It’s not like putting it off is going to make this visit any easier. This day isn’t the darkest, but it sure isn’t bright either. And I have no clue what light I could find in it. I hate hospitals, and I hate coming back here. I’m not sure if anyone will recognize me again. It’s been at least four years, but who knows. I know I look like my father, with his blue eyes and jet black hair, and a small town like this won’t forget traitors that easily. With every step I take towards the elevators and what lies ahead, my shoulders hunch up, my body and mind putting up the defensive walls I haven’t needed since I left.

The parking garage is only three levels, and it doesn’t take long for the elevator to arrive. I step in, sighing with relief that it was empty of people. Once it opens on the ground floor, I get out and quickly walk across the road towards the hospital. It’s on a hill, I guess so that sick people can have a nice view of the valley and the woods. There’s woodland all around, and beyond that down the road are the houses for the rich people of Herman Springs, including a prominent mansion I saw along the way with H’s on either side of its wrought iron gates. That wasn’t there the last time. I guess that the company must have grown into a bigger deal than I thought.

The hospital is a grey concrete building which has seen better days. I don’t know why they do that with hospitals, make them look hopeless and depressing. You’d think that they would try the opposite. I hurry to make the doors behind an elderly couple, the husband supporting his wife as they totter into the building. I skirt around them and head straight for the information desk. A slight kid, a high school volunteer probably, stands behind the counter.

“I’m looking for Irina Ellis,” I tell him, steeling myself for a snide remark or hateful gaze.

His face twitches in recognition, but he doesn’t say anything at least.

“Third floor,” he says. “Room 321.”

“Thanks,” I say, and leave quickly.

I keep my head ducked down as I walk down the hallways toward the elevators, using my long dark hair to shield people from seeing me. I did it all through high school, and though it didn’t do much then, it seems like nobody recognizes me today. The intercom buzzes as it calls doctors to various places, and the smell of disinfectant is strong enough to knock someone over. I fall in behind the crowd waiting at the elevators, and when the doors open, I squeeze myself into the corner.

We arrive at the third floor, and I’m not the only one who steps out. I think this must be the intensive care unit, because all I see are serious faces and hardly any activity. It’s as if bad news has dampened any noise on the floor. I turn right, following the signs on the wall. Room 321 is the second room, and I pause, peeking in through the window.

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