Authors: Lisa N. Paul
* * * *
Copyright © 2013 by Lisa N. Paul
Cover Design by
Super Dandy Publishing
Ebook ISBN: 978-0-989-24650-7
All rights reserved.
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the author of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners:
AAA, Baileys, Batgirl, Big Red, Cheers, Circus Peanuts, CliffsNotes, Converse, Ferrari, Ferrari Spider, Fruity Pebbles, Henley, Hershey Kisses, Jeep, Jetta, John Mayer, Maroon 5, Pink, Ferrari, Ferrari Spider, Post-it, Philadelphia Eagles, Rolodex, Starbucks, Seinfeld, the Soup Nazi, Spiderman, Top Gun, University of Pittsburgh, the Vampire Diaries.
Table of Contents
Because of you Thursday nights are more than just another night of the week.
Thank you for the love and the inspiration. You mean the world to me. Raise your glass!
While you never got to see the finished product,
you were so damn proud of the process.
Thank you for believing in me.
I miss you.
Seven Years Earlier
It was time to start moving on.
It had been six months since Max found out his wife had been cheating on him again and was having a baby with the bastard. Six months since she left him standing in the driveway, watching her leave him. Six months since her car was sideswiped, and the woman he had spent more than ten years loving was killed. He hated what she did to him, but he’d spent those months mourning the loss of the life he knew and the woman he loved. But no more.
Max slid his feet into his boots and headed for the kitchen. Swiping his keys and wallet off the counter, he opened the door to his apartment and came face-to-face with his deceased wife’s parents. Two people who had hated him for years.
“Oh, Max…” Mrs. Smyth stammered. “We were just about to knock.”
Through the anxious and claustrophobic feeling overwhelming him, Max found his voice. “I was just heading out for the night. Is there something I can do for you?”
Mr. Smyth looked down at him with sad but serious eyes. “Just a half hour of your time…please, Max.”
Being six-foot-three, there were few people that were taller than Max, but Mr. Smyth was one of them. Back in the day, he swore that his father-in-law loved looking down on him in more ways than just physically. Max’s mind was reeling. The man had even said
. He didn’t want to be with these people, but his curiosity kept him standing still. What could they possibly have to say that he’d want to hear? Yet, how could he say no to the only thing they had ever asked of him?
Max nodded and led his former in-laws into the main room of his new apartment. He paced the floor, making a path on the newly laid carpet as he tried to contain his breath, and steeled himself for the reason of their surprise visit.
“Max,” said Mrs. Smyth, or Gina as she now insisted on being called. “We know you probably don’t have anything to say to us. Lord knows you probably don’t want to hear anything we have to say . . . but we have been trying to get in touch with you for almost six months.”
He stopped pacing and looked at the woman who stood in front of him. Her platinum hair was perfectly coiffed and her designer clothes professionally pressed. The diamonds in her ears and on her left hand were probably worth more than what he made in a year. She was the model image of what money
buy, but when his gaze traveled up to her face he saw that time had not been kind. Gina looked tired and old. The deep purple smudges under her eyes spoke of the sleepless nights Max himself knew so well.
“You have my attention, Gina,” Max said with a little too much bite. Harvey reached for his wife and gently guided her to sit down on the couch.
“Chloe was always…troubled,” Gina started to explain as Max sat on the chair facing the couple. “She was the reason we moved from Texas to Pennsylvania in the first place. Chloe suffered from depression. She was emotionally needy and when it suited her, manipulative. Back in Texas, she had a boyfriend, and when they broke up she swore the boy had harmed her.”
Max watched the grimace on Harvey’s face as he picked up where Gina left off. “Chloe had threatened to kill herself if she had to see the boy at school anymore. Coincidently, a job position had opened up in Pennsylvania when all this was happening, so we decided to make the move and give her a fresh start.”
The man paused to assess Max’s expression. Blank.
“Of course, we weren’t here a full week before she met you,” Harvey added without a bit of animosity. “I did some asking around and heard you were a good kid, so I stepped back.”
“Then why did you hate me so much?” Max finally asked the question that had tugged at him for years.
Looking at each other, and then turning sympathetic eyes to Max, Chloe’s parents said in unison, “We didn’t.”
Max pulled his fingers through his hair in frustration as his heart began to thrum in his chest. “What the hell? I saw the way you looked at me. You never accepted me or my relationship with your daughter.” He could feel the flush rising in his neck. “Chloe said so herself!”
Harvey quietly leaned forward, hands on the knees of his designer suit. “Son…”
your son,” Max insisted, his voice loud but shaking. Standing, he clenched his fists, knuckles white. “You hated me. You never once looked me in the eye. You even disowned her for marrying me. I’ve never been anything to you,” Max spat. “Why are you here?” His voice was a shout now, the emotion becoming harder and harder to tamp down.
“Sit down, Max.” Harvey’s eyes pleaded, but his voice was firm. “You need to hear what we have to say, and then I promise, you will never have to see us again.”
Not knowing what else to do, Max sat back down but didn’t release his fists. Harvey inhaled deeply, laced his fingers with Gina’s, and continued.
“We knew you loved our daughter from the first moment we saw the way you looked at her. You were still just a boy, but your devotion to her was that of a man. But we also saw the other side of the relationship—her side. When the two of you were still in high school and she’d be alone in her room on the phone with her friends,” Harvey said thoughtfully, “she would say how she had you wrapped around her finger. That was
when Gina and I finally admitted that Chloe had bigger problems than depression. We felt horrible that we let it get so out of control and that you got wrapped up in a mess that we maybe could’ve stopped.” Harvey looked at a silent Max, an emotion on his face Max had never seen there before—embarrassment.
Gina’s gentle voice permeated the fog that was taking over Max’s thoughts. “We tried to talk to her, we begged her to stop seeing you. But she told us to mind our own business. She said she loved you and this time was going to be different. We wanted to believe her…we really did. Then we started to hear the way she manipulated you about
your going away to college
She didn’t want you to go. We hoped you would leave anyway, but you didn’t. When we told your parents our fears, they agreed to talk to you. But honey, nothing worked.”
Max couldn’t believe his ears. His parents had met with Chloe’s? Why didn’t they ever tell him?
Would you have listened?
His inner voice asked even though he already knew the answer. After all, he never went to West Chester University, did he?
Gina continued her account of the past. “We had hoped she would finally let go of you when she went away to college herself, but that was when she told us she planned to marry you. All the while she was seeing other guys behind your back.” Gina looked down at her hands. “When we threatened to tell you about her cheating, she just laughed and said, ‘Tell him! He loves me, he will never believe you.’ That was the same summer you and Chloe moved in together.” Max thought back—it was the summer that she told him she wanted to get married.
“My God,” Max whispered, his voice breaking. “I was no more than a toy to her. A puppet.” He walked over to his liquor cabinet and poured himself a healthy shot of bourbon. His stomach felt tight as he looked at the two people on his sofa. How was this happening? How could he have been so blind? He tried to focus on the familiar taste of the amber liquid and its slow burn down his throat into his belly instead of the sharp pain of the words flying out of the Smyths’ mouths like darts, each one hitting the red bull’s-eye.