“I thought you said that things are casual between you,” Merry said.
“They are.” Jaci tugged at the ragged hem of her denim shorts. “Sort of. As I said, I think we turned a corner last night but, knowing me, I might be reading the situation wrong.” She pulled her earlobe. “I tend to do that with men. I’m pretty stupid when it comes to relationships.”
“We all are, in one way or another,” Merry told her.
“Yeah, but I tend to take stupidity to new heights,” Jaci replied, tipping her face up to the sun. She’d kissed Ryan impulsively, agreed to be his pretend girlfriend, slept with him and then fell in love with him. Stupid didn’t even begin to cover it.
Well, she’d made those choices and now she had to live the consequences...
Jaci jerked when she heard the slap of paper hitting the stone floor and she winced when the wind picked up her mother’s manuscript and blew sheets across the terrace. Before her mother could get hysterical about losing her work, Jaci jumped up to retrieve the pages, but Priscilla’s whip-crack voice stopped her instantly. “Sit down, Jacqueline!”
“But...your papers.” Jaci protested.
“Leave them,” Priscilla ordered and Jaci frowned. Who was this person and what had she done with her mother? The Priscilla Jaci knew would be having six kittens and a couple of ducks by now at the thought of losing her work.
Priscilla yanked off her hat and shoved her hand into her short cap of gray hair. She frowned at Jaci but her eyes looked sad. “I don’t ever want to hear those words out of your mouth again.”
Jaci quickly tried to recall what she’d said and couldn’t pinpoint the source of her ire. “What words?”
“That you are stupid. I won’t have it, do you understand?”
Jaci felt as if she was being sucked into a parallel universe where nothing made sense. Before she could speak, Priscilla held up her hand and shook her head. “You are not stupid, do you understand me?” Priscilla stated, her voice trembling with emotion. “You are more intelligent than the rest of us put together!”
No, she wasn’t. “Mum—”
“None of us could have coped with what Clive put you through with the grace and dignity you did. We just shoved our heads in the sand and ignored him, hoping that he would go away. But you had to deal with him, with the press. The four of us deal with life by ignoring what makes us unhappy and we’re selfish, horrible creatures.”
“It’s okay, Mum. I’m okay.”
Jaci flicked a look at Merry, who appeared equally uncomfortable at their mother’s statement. “It’s not okay. It’s not okay that you’ve spent your life believing that you are second-rate because you are not obsessive and selfish and driven and ambitious.”
“But I’m not smart like you.” Jaci stared at her intertwined fingers.
“No, but you’re smart like you,” Merry quietly said. “Instead of falling apart when Clive raked you, and your relationship, through the press, you picked yourself up, dusted yourself off and started something new. You pursued your dream and got a job and you started a new life, and that takes guts, kid. Mum’s right. We ignore what we don’t understand and bury ourselves, and our emotions, in our work.”
Jaci let out a low, trembling laugh. “Let’s not get too carried away. I’m a scriptwriter. It’s not exactly War and Peace.”
“It’s a craft,” Priscilla insisted. “A craft that you seem to excel at, as I’ve recently realized. I’m sorry that you felt like you couldn’t share that with us, that you thought that we wouldn’t support you. God, I’m a terrible mother. I’m the failure, Jaci, not you. You are, by far, the best of us.”
Merry reached out and squeezed her shoulder. “I’m sorry, too, Jace. I haven’t exactly been there for you.”
Jaci blinked away the tears in her eyes and swallowed the lump in her throat. What a weekend this had been, she thought; she’d fallen in love and she’d realized that she was a part of the Brookes-Lyon family—quite an important part, as it turned out. She was the normal one. The rest of her family were all slightly touched. Clever but a bit batty.
It was, she had to admit, a huge relief.
“And you are not stupid when it comes to men,” Priscilla stated, her voice now strong and back to its normal no-nonsense tone. “Ryan is thick if he can’t see how wonderful you are.”