Jane Porter’s The Good Daughter is the second in the Brennan sister’s trilogy and is out now! We interviewed Jane for our feature ’7 Questions, 3 Tips’ back in October and fell in love with her optimism and tips on choosing happiness. In The Good Daughter, Jane examines some complex family dynamics and issues facing the modern woman. Below is an excerpt from chapter 1.
Make a wish.
And just like that, wishes sprang to mind. One, two, three.
But it wasn’t Kit Brennan who was supposed to be making wishes. It was Cass’s night. The Brennan family had gathered to celebrate Cass’s thirty-sixth birthday at Kit’s childhood home in San Francisco’s inner Sunset district.
There were ten at the table in the Edwardian-period dining room with its high ceiling and elaborate wainscoting, the lights still out, the last of the happy birthday song dying away. Kit. Her parents. Her sister Meg and her family. Her brother, Tommy, and his wife, Cass, whose birthday they were celebrating.
“Make a wish, Cass,” Mom said from her seat at the head of the table. She’d become painfully thin in the last month but looked happy tonight.
“Make a wish, Aunt Cass,” Meg’s eleven-year-old daughter, Gabi echoed, crowding in close to Cass, unable to contain herself, the flickering candlelight reflected in her shining brown eyes.
“Make a wish, babe,” Tommy Jr. said, patting his wife’s back. “Before your cake catches fi re.”
Cass Brennan crinkled her nose and tucked a long blond curl behind her ear. She’d married into this family eleven years ago and they’d immediately made her one of them. “Not too worried,” she said lightly, even with her candles ablaze. “I’ve got two of the city’s finest firefighters here.”
Dad lifted his hands. “I’ve retired, hon, and we don’t know how good Tommy is. Better make a wish and blow out those candles.”
“Come on, Aunt Cass,” Gabi shouted, trying to be heard above the good-natured laughter. “Wish for a baby. Wish hard!”
The laughter immediately died.
Tommy’s shoulders squared aggressively. “We don’t need a baby.”
“Yes, you do, Uncle Tommy,” Gabi argued. “You’ve been wanting a baby for a long time!”
“Time to wish for something else. Like a vacation. Or winning the lottery.”
Cass flinched, as if struck. Tears slowly filled her eyes.
All pretense of happiness was gone. Kit could feel Cass’s grief, was sure everyone else felt it, too. The endless sorrow hung in the dining room, heavy, aching, a tragic specter weighting the room.
Tommy reacted first, his strong jaw—Dad’s jaw—tightening, his blue eyes snapping. He didn’t do this. Didn’t break, grieve, mourn. Not in public. Not even in front of his family. He clapped his hand impatiently on Cass’s slender back, between her shoulder blades. “Come on, babe. Blow out the candles.”
The edge in his voice brought Cass to life. She gulped a breath, leaned toward the tall coconut cake with the fluffy icing, staring at what was left of the candles, formulating the wish before blowing
out the flames in a broken rush of air.
Everyone clapped and the kids cheered. Meg rose and rushed to get the knife and delicate porcelain dessert plates. Jack asked if anyone wanted coffee or tea. Mom wanted tea and Jack headed to the kitchen to make it, and all the while Dad was talking loudly, carrying the small stack of presents from the sideboard to the table, making a big deal about which present Cass would open first. Everyone was talking, busy doing something, but Tommy.
Tommy sat stiff and silent and grim in his chair at the corner of the table. Kit refilled water glasses but kept an eye on her brother. She knew Tommy well, could tell from his expression that he was angry, resenting Cass, maybe everyone, for making him into the bad guy. Because that’s what he was thinking, feeling, that they’d all turned him into the villain in the story, and he wasn’t the villain. He was just being honest. Practical. After six years of trying unsuccessfully to have a baby, Tommy was done.
He didn’t need a baby. He wanted peace. He needed to stay sane.
As Cass cut the cake and Meg assisted by passing the plates around, Kit wondered what Cass had wished for. Was it a baby? Or was it for Tommy to want a baby again? Because their marriage
was suffering. Both of them were suffering. Kit wasn’t even sure a baby would solve everything anymore.
She suddenly ached with wishes of her own . . .
For Mom’s cancer to go into remission.
For Cass to have her baby.
For Tommy to be happy with Cass again . . .
Later, after cake and presents, Meg’s three kids cleared the dishes from the table, taking them to the kitchen to scrape and stack while Jack and Dad headed outside with Tommy to look at Tommy’s new car, which was really an old car, a 1960 Cadillac he bought on Craigslist for next to nothing and was determined to restore himself.
“Just us now,” Meg said, sitting back in her chair with a soft, appreciative sigh. “The girls.”
Kit was glad, too. She was tight with her sisters, and they were all close with Mom, so close that for the past ten years the five of them had taken an annual girls-only trip together, calling it the Brennan Girls’ Getaway, spending a long weekend or week at the family beach house in Capitola.
On their getaway they’d eat and drink, talk, read, sleep. It was a time to let their hair down, a time to celebrate family, and hopefully a time to feel safe, although the last couple getaways had been tense because of friction between Brianna, Kit’s fraternal twin, and Meg. Cass had missed the last getaway, too, back in May, as she’d been in the middle of an IVF cycle and her doctor wouldn’t let her travel so close to the egg retrieval.
Mom shifted in her high-back chair and focused on Cass. “How are you?”
Mom wasn’t making polite conversation. She was genuinely concerned about Cass, and now that Tommy was gone, this was a chance for Cass to open up . . . if she could. No one was sure that she could, or would. It’d been almost three and a half months since she’d miscarried and this miscarriage had been the worst . . . not just for her, but the whole family. It was her fourth miscarriage, and it’d happened later than the others, this time at twenty-four weeks, just when Cass had let her guard down. Just when she’d started to get excited about the baby.
The entire family had grieved with Cass. All of them had been so happy about the baby, and then their hearts were broken. But this time Tommy didn’t want their meals or phone calls or visits. This time Tommy announced that he and Cass wanted to be alone, and he asked that the family give them space and privacy to deal with the loss their way, in their time.
Kit’s baby sister, Sarah, who lived with her husband and children in Tampa Bay, had been on the phone immediately with Kit and then Meg, hurt, even outraged that Tommy would push them away, but Mom and Dad backed Tommy, insisting that his sisters respect Tommy and Cass’s need for space. As Mom reminded them repeatedly, having children, or not having children, was part of marriage and no one’s business but Tommy and Cass’s.
Of course the Brennan sisters couldn’t ignore Cass, not when they knew she was hurting so much. Without consulting each other, each of them quietly sent Cass private e-mails and text messages, letting her know she was loved. Tommy could refuse meals and visitors, but he couldn’t expect his sisters not reach out to Cass. They loved Cass, and they told her so, repeatedly. Cass didn’t answer all, or even most, messages, but later in December, just before Christmas, she sent her sister-in-laws a group message thanking them for their amazing support and constant love. She hadn’t had sisters, only two younger brothers, and she told them that she felt incredibly lucky to be one of the Brennan girls.
“I’m good,” Cass said softly now, two spots of color in her cheeks. “Well, better than I was in October.” She paused, studying the blue, white, and gold pattern on her dessert plate with the half-eaten slice of birthday cake. “October was bad. And November.” Her full mouth quirked and one of her deep dimples appeared. “To be honest, December wasn’t much better either.”
Kit knew Cass had been in a very dark place and yet there had been nothing any of them could do for her then. There was really nothing they could do now. Kit hated feeling helpless. “We’ve been worried about you.”
“I know. And I was kind of worried about me, too,” Cass admitted on a strangled laugh, pushing back the same wayward curl that had slipped out of her ponytail. She had long loose curls and big blue eyes like an innocent shepherdess from a Mother Goose nursery rhyme. In reality she was a labor and delivery nurse at a hospital in Walnut Creek specializing in high-risk deliveries, and far from helpless.
“Are you doing better?” Mom asked, a deep furrow between her eyebrows. Mom had been a nurse, too, before she earned her master’s degree and became a hospital administrator.
Cass toyed with the lace edging her white linen napkin. “I don’t know. This last time broke something inside of me. Here I had this beautiful, perfect little boy . . . and my body rejected him.
“Cassidy!” Meg choked, horrified, glancing toward the hall to make sure none of her kids were listening. “Don’t say that. You’re not responsible. You can’t blame yourself.”
“But I do.” Cass looked up, the grief clouding her eyes. “How can I not? He was twenty-four weeks old. Thirty-six percent of babies can survive premature birth at twenty-four weeks. Instead
my body—” She didn’t finish, pressing a hand to her mouth to keep the words in, but her eyes were enormous with sorrow and pain.
Kit slid out of her chair to wrap her arms around Cass’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “So very, very sorry.”
Cass covered Kit’s hands with hers. “I want him back. I want to save him.”
“It’s not fair, is it?” Kit murmured.
“It’s not,” Meg echoed. “Nor does it seem fair that people who shouldn’t have kids pop them out, and those who should have them struggle.”
“I think about that all the time,” Cass said.
“Did you have a name for him?” Mom asked.
Cass nodded. “Thomas. After Dad. Thomas Joseph Brennan.”
“Your own baby Tommy,” Mom said, understanding.
For a moment no one said anything and then Gabi ran into the dining room with a plastic plate from the kitchen, asking if she could please have another slice of cake since her piece had been small. Meg cut her a sliver. Kit asked if she could have another sliver, too. It was good cake. Meg was an excellent baker.
After Gabi left, Mom circled her teacup with her hands. “You won’t ever forget your Tommy,” she said quietly. “I know I’ve told you this before, but I’ve never forgotten the babies I lost. There were three between Meg and the twins. I never knew if they were boys or girls. Back then they didn’t tell you those things. I wondered, though.”
“What did Dad do when you lost them?” Cass asked, brow furrowing.
“Told me he was sorry. That he loved me.” Marilyn paused, looking back, remembering the years of being a young wife and mother. “That I would conceive again. And then he’d go to work.
Escape to his beloved fi rehouse. To his boys.” Her voice held the barest hint of bitterness. “He was lucky. He had somewhere else to go. I was here alone with a toddler.”
The clock in the living room suddenly chimed nine. It caught them by surprise. No one knew when it’d gotten so late, and it was Sunday night, a school night, too. Meg said she’d need to get the kids home soon. They lived in Santa Rosa. And once Meg and Jack left, everyone else would go, too. Tommy and Cass to Walnut Creek. Kit to her small house in Oakland.
“I’d try again,” Cass said in a rush when the clock stopped chiming. “I’ve met with a new specialist, a doctor who thinks he can help me, but Tommy has said no. Says he can’t go through that
Kit opened her mouth to speak but then thought better of it. She wasn’t married. Had never been married. Wasn’t her place.
Instead Mom said carefully, “Maybe he just needs more time—”
“It’s our eleventh wedding anniversary this year. I want a baby.” Cass’s voice dropped, deepening with emotion. “I don’t want to wait. I can’t wait. I’m ready to be a mom now.”
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