Page 28 of Arrogant Devil

15

Meredith


There is no way around it: I am truly on my own. My sister has officially taken up forces with the dark side (A.K.A. Andrew) and there’s no talking her out of it. I don’t have the strength to keep trying. Not only does it feel like a dagger in my heart every time she sides with him over me, it feels like I’m fighting a losing battle.

Apparently, over the last week, Helen and Brent have been brainstorming ways to get me back to California. That’s why Helen called me this morning. I was expecting her to ask me how I was doing, possibly inquire about my mental health, but the conversation felt like a politician stumping on a pro-Andrew platform.

“Have you tried calling him and working this out?”

I heaved an annoyed sigh. “I’ve been busy working. Besides, this isn’t a workable issue. It’s over.” Unless Andrew’s had a lobotomy in the last few days.

“Has he reached out to you?” she asked, sounding like she already knew the answer.

“Some. We’re playing phone tag. I’m not avoiding him on purpose.”

It’s true. He’s left two voicemails, both of which were eerily sedated and thoughtful. He went on about how much he misses me and implored me to come home to California so we could work things out. I listened to them in the hopes that he’d break and speak to me over the phone the way he did in private—then I could play the messages for Helen and say, See? This is the monster you want to send me back to.

I should’ve known he would never be that stupid.

A few minutes later, our conversation took a turn for the worse.

“I stuck my neck out for you, Meredith. You need to start being honest with me.”

My eyes narrowed in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“You didn’t tell me you’ve done this before. Andrew gave me his side of things earlier this week. He told me last year you disappeared out of the blue just like this.”

WHAT?!

“No. I went to stay in a hotel for a few days to clear my head.”

It was a Best Western down the street. There were roaches in the bathroom, and the man staying next door definitely resembled a MOST WANTED poster I’d seen on the news—that’s how badly I didn’t want to go home.

“According to him, you left then had a change of heart and went crawling back.”

Her tone sounded so accusatory, I had to grit my teeth to keep from screaming.

“Well, he’s lying. He knew I went to get some space. He and I had just had a bad fight and I needed time away from him to think.”

“That’s not the way he made it sound.”

“Then he’s lying!” My arms were flailing at that point. “Jesus, Helen, I’m your sister—why is it so hard for you to just take my word on something?”

“Because whether you like it or not, Andrew is your husband and my brother-in-law, and I’m having a little bit of trouble assuming the worst of him when you’re the one who randomly boarded a plane in the middle of the night!”

“So instead you’ll assume the worst about me?”

She sighed, clearly exhausted by the entire thing. “That’s not what I’m doing. I’m trying to be the voice of reason in all this. Listen, obviously if Andrew is the monster you say he is, I don’t want you to be with him, but you can see how this seems from my side, right? You’ve been with a man for years and up until recently, I’ve heard nothing but good things. On Facebook, your life looks amazing—it’s hard to believe it could have all been a lie.”

“Well it was,” I insisted, angry with myself for how close I was to tears.

We both took a few clearing breaths. I was half convinced we’d turned some kind of corner, but then she just had to keep going.

“Meredith, I need you to calm down and assess the situation with a level head. The easiest way forward is reconciliation. Divorces are messy and expensive and you—”

“You think I care about that? You think I’ll stay married to someone like him because I’m scared of what it will cost to leave him?”

The phone call didn’t last much longer after that. I was crying and hiccupping and feeling stupid for losing control of my emotions. I could tell my sister wasn’t sure how to handle me, not to mention I knew anything I said would be used against me if she decided to call Andrew again. In my head, I cursed her for her disloyalty before I realized she was being loyal, just to a version of me that doesn’t exist anymore.

I had just finished the phone call and was vigorously wiping tears and snot from my face when I heard Jack unloading stuff outside the shack. He caught me at the wrong time, and per usual, he took a bad situation and made it even worse.

Why waste your money? he’d asked dismissively when he saw the new decorations inside the shack.

You know what, buddy?! Maybe it’s because living in this dingy shack is making me miserable! Maybe it’s because I’ve had to pry four splinters from my foot in the last week! Maybe it’s TO SPITE YOU FOR INTENTIONALLY MAKING ME SUFFER SO I’D WANT TO LEAVE!

Obviously I didn’t shout any of those things at him. I stormed off, and now I’m out walking his property in my pajamas and sneakers. I have no idea where I’m going or how far his land extends. How close are we to Mexico? I’ve been angrily stomping my way in one direction for a few minutes and there’s still no end in sight. I didn’t have time to put on a bra or socks or deodorant, and all my blubbering on the phone and that angry getaway have really worked up a sweat.

I should definitely just turn around and head back, but I know he’ll still be there, installing that window unit. I felt so guilty when I saw it, thanks in part to my phone call with Helen. Before launching into her lecture about my marriage, she inquired about Jack.

“So, he gave you a job?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Where are you staying?”

“On the premises.” I was hesitant to admit I’m living in the run-down shack.

“Yeah? What about rent and food?”

“It’s included.”

Her tone turned cold then. “You better not be taking advantage of him, Meredith. It sounds like he’s going out of his way to help you, a complete stranger, and if you’re just going to run right back to Andrew in a few weeks—”

“I’m not!”

She wasn’t convinced.

“This is a mess. I asked him to give you a job, not to roll out the red carpet. I’ll need to figure out some way to pay him back. Maybe I should cut our trip short. We’d still have to pay for the hotels but—”

“No, Helen, don’t do that. It’s not like I’m just mooching off him. I’ve been working hard—”

She cut me off, annoyed. “Listen, this is my livelihood, Meredith. I don’t expect you to understand, but Brent and I depend on my income a lot, especially with this trip and renovation.” I could hear the stress in her voice. “Please don’t do anything to screw up my relationship with Jack while I’m gone. Keep your head down, work, and try to make yourself as useful as possible.”

I realize now that I’ve done the exact opposite. I’ve been nothing but a hassle for Jack since my arrival. He spent his entire morning buying building supplies to fix up the shack for me, and I know I never asked him to do it, but I still feel responsible. There was a lot of stuff in the bed of his truck and I have no idea what it cost him, much less how long it will take him to do the repairs. I want to be more help than hassle, and I cringe thinking of how Helen would react if she saw him unloading supplies like that. She would be livid.

I have no clue what to do…demand he take it all back? Decline the repairs? I don’t want to be rude, but I also don’t want to use up all the goodwill Helen has built up for herself.

If I had money, I’d consider trying to find another place to live; at least then I’d only be depending on him for a job. I could leave the ranch at quitting time like the rest of the employees and be out of his hair. Unfortunately, with the paltry amount of money in my new checking account, that just isn’t an option right now, and probably won’t be for a while.

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