Chapter 15


“Get out!” I order her and she fumbles a little with the seatbelt before she slides out of the van.

I immediately begin searching her car and quickly find her cell phone and the small Post-it note where my address is scrawled in Grandma’s shaky handwriting. I drop the paper on the asphalt and smash it with my sneaker until it’s disintegrated. Then I search for my contact information in her phone and, sure enough, she already entered it in there. She laughs as I delete my address and phone number from her phone and search all her notes apps and social apps to make sure she didn’t save it somewhere else.

“Don’t you ever fucking come here again,” I growl as I throw her phone into the interior of her car. “This is your first and only warning: forget my address.”

She’s still smiling as she reaches into the van toward the front seat. I slide my hand behind my back and prepare for the worst. But she doesn’t pull out a gun.

“Petition for full-custody of Molly,” she says, handing me a large white envelope. “I already gave your grandma a copy. I came all the way out here, out of the kindness of my heart, to give you one.”

I snatch the envelope out of her hand and glance at the return address: Debra Holstein, Esq.

“You’re fucking deluded if you think I’d ever let that happen. But that’s why you’re here, isn’t it? You think you’ve got me where you want me because you know where I live. You think I’m scared you’re going to send your crackhead boyfriends or some fucking reporters over here. Well, you’re wrong. Because I don’t live here any more. Now get the fuck out of here before I call Debra Holstein and tell her everything.”

Her smile finally fades and she slowly gets back into the car. “This isn’t over. Someone gets Grandma’s house when she dies and you sure as hell don’t need it,” she says, glancing around at the sprawling properties on Venetian Court. “You’ve always been so selfish.”

She slams the door shut and it takes everything in me not to pull the gun out of my waistband and shoot. I don’t know what I’d shoot. Maybe just shooting her tires would make me feel better. But I’m too fucking chicken-shit to find out.

I watch as she drives away, waiting a few minutes after her car is out of sight before I drive back to the house. This time I put my car in the garage and I head back inside. I lock up the gun and stuff the envelope behind some books in the study, then I go upstairs. Senia is lying on my bed on her stomach with her laptop in front of her.

I panicked a little when I saw her lying on the floor in the study the other day. I was worried that maybe lying on her stomach would squish the baby. It sent her into a crying fit, so I decided I wouldn’t make any more comments about what’s best for the baby. She’s going to her first doctor’s appointment after we get back from Jake and Rachel’s wedding in Vegas next week. She’ll only be about seven weeks along by then. Everything will be fine.

She’s wearing a tank top and panties and just the sight of her calms me. She doesn’t know anything about Elaine or the shit I’ve done, but I think Senia’s the kind of person who might understand … in a few years when I’ve trapped her.

“You’re back early. Where are the gifts?” she asks as she watches me approach the bed.

“I decided not to go. I forgot to plug in the car last night.”

“You and your damn electric car.”

“I did take a few minutes to look around the garage for those old pictures of Molly you wanted for the photo book. Couldn’t find them, but I’ll keep looking. And, hey, that car you gave Claire a couple of months ago was a hybrid. But I don’t do hybrid. I go all the way.”

She shakes her head as I take a seat on the bed and slide my hand under her shirt to feel the smooth skin on her back. “What are you grinning at?” she asks breathlessly.

“Just thinking that I have a lot of plans for you.”

She closes her eyes as I lightly brush my fingertips over her skin. “Plans? When exactly are we moving into this apartment you got?”

“It will be ready after the fifteenth of January. I’m having them make a few changes.”

“What kind of changes?”

I slip my hand out of her shirt and brush her hair aside so I can kiss the back of her neck. “They’re turning the shower into a steam shower.”

She laughs and the vibration of her laughter against my lips gets me hot. “I am not having sex with you in a steam room!”

“It’s not a steam room. It’s a steam shower.”

“Same difference.”

I grab her hips and flip her over onto her back. She grins at me as I close her laptop and set it on the floor. “You have three weeks to write that paper. But you have about three seconds before I throw that fucking computer in the fireplace.”

I slide my hand into her panties and she squirms as I lightly caress her clit. I lean in to kiss her and she grabs my shoulders to stop me.

“Wait. It’s your turn today.”

She instructs me to sit on the edge of the bed as she kneels before me and gives me what can only be described as the best fucking blowjob I’ve ever received.

What follows is an act, but I’ve become a great actor. I can pretend to be somewhere I’m not. I can pretend to be someone I’m not. And right now, I’m pretending to be someone whose life isn’t crumbling on all sides of them.

Chapter Twenty-Five

“You have to meet my parents today,” Senia blurts out as we walk through the parking lot toward the bridal shop to pick up her dress for the double-wedding in Vegas. I’m careful to hold her arm in case we hit a patch of ice. The snow that came three days ago on Christmas Day is mostly melted, but it’s still cold as hell out here. And I’ve slipped on enough invisible ice in my lifetime to know better. The last thing I need right now is for something to happen to Senia or the baby.

“Today? Isn’t that kind of soon?”

The words come out before I can even stop myself. I open the door to the shop and she enters ahead of me, but she doesn’t answer my question as she proceeds to examine the dress the woman behind the counter hands to her. I try not to look bored or really fucking uncomfortable as they stand there talking about flowers and wedding cakes. They’re both gushing over the surprise wedding that Chris planned for Claire and how romantic it is. I’m trying really hard not to roll my eyes.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Is it too soon for you to be hearing this conversation?” Senia asks, her head tilted to one side, probably because it’s weighed down by all that sarcasm.

I grin as I look her in the eye without flinching. “Maybe, but I doubt that’ll stop you.”

She glares at me then says goodbye to the shop owner. I lock my arm in hers again as we make it out to the parking lot and she tries to wrench her arm free, but I just tighten my hold on her.

“How do you go from being practically perfect to complete asshole in less than two seconds?”

“It’s a talent I’ve perfected and you should probably get used to it.”

She tries to free her arm again, this time pushing me away with one hand while she pulls the other arm free. “Don’t touch me.”

I allow her to walk by herself and everything is fine until she steps over a parking bumper and slips on some melted snow. She curses spectacularly as her ass hits the concrete bumper. Rushing to her side to help her, I have to step back to dodge her open hand as she attempts to slap me.

“Get away from me!”

“Are you okay?”

I offer my hand to help her up, but she stands easily on her own. “My ass hurts. And it’s your fault!”

I try not to laugh at this. She was complaining this morning about her ass hurting. I warned her before I took her from behind last night, but she insisted she could handle it.

I open the car door for her and she gets inside without further insult. Rounding the front of the car, I get inside quickly so I can crank up the heater. She pulls off her gloves and tucks them between her legs. When she looks up at me, the anger is gone.

“Do you really think it’s too soon for you to meet my parents?”

“No, it’s not. That was just an automatic response. I’m … sorry. I want to meet your folks.”

“You want to meet them?”

“Okay, maybe not yet, but I’m sure the nerves will subside. But … you should know that parents usually hate me. There’s just something about me.”

I try not to smile as I think of all the dicks I’ve had to deal with over the years: brothers and friends of girls I’ve dated who thought they could talk enough crap about me to change those girls’ minds. You can’t force someone to see that something is bad for them. You just have to sit back and watch people reach for the flame – sometimes repeatedly – until they finally understand that fire hurts.

“Yeah, there is something about you. It’s your asshole-y-ness.”

“His Asshole-y-ness. I suppose I deserve that title.”

She shakes her head as I pull the car out of the parking space. “My parents want to take you to a Salvadoran restaurant.”

“I like burritos.”

“You have so much to learn. Just let me do most of the talking. We’re not there to tell them about the baby. They just want to meet you before we go to Vegas. They still don’t know we’re living together.”

I pull onto the highway to head toward her parents’ neighborhood and I begin to feel an itch in the pit of my stomach, a restlessness that makes me want to turn the car around and forget all of it.

Suddenly, I’m reminded of the first time I met Ashley’s adoptive parents. They had taken her in as a foster child shortly after her appearances at Elaine’s house. She was completely broken and she even turned to drugs for a while, but they cleaned her up, adopted her, put her in a different school to get her away from her old friends, and she was able to pretend to be okay – until we ended up in the same art class.

Chris had quit school the summer before our junior year, so it was just Jake and I left at Athens Drive High School. Jake was a senior, so the only classes we ever shared at ADHS were elective classes. We didn’t get placed in any of the same electives during my junior year. But I recognized Ashley the moment I saw her sitting in the back of the class with her brown hair looking a bit disheveled and hardly any make-up, unlike the last time I saw her in that back bedroom with her black mascara streaming down her cheeks.

“You missed the exit,” Senia says. “Are you okay?”

“Just thinking about Molly.”

I want to tell her everything. I do. But the shame and disgust I feel for the things I did to Ashley nine years ago couldn’t be erased by years of perspective or thirteen months of her trying to prove that she did forgive me. I knew when she cheated on me that she did it to make it easier for her to go to college and leave me behind – to leave everything that happened between us behind. But you can’t leave behind the kind of demons that cling to your back, leaving you weighed down and misshapen.

Ashley’s friend, Beatrice, left me a voicemail message last year to tell me that Ashley had just come back from a fashion internship in Paris. For a few days, I considered returning her call, just to know why Ashley wanted me to know this. Then it dawned on me that she wanted me to know that she’s doing well. She had to get away from me to be okay.

“I think Molly should move in with us,” Senia says as I take the next exit.

“She doesn’t want to change schools. She doesn’t want to lose her friends.” And I don’t blame her.

After Chris dropped out and Jake and Ashley graduated, that’s where the endless stream of meaningless sex and relationships began for me. I don’t want Molly to go looking for something to fill the void once her grandmother and her friends are taken from her.

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