“Well I’m so glad this all worked out,” Jack says sarcastically, effectively ending the conversation. “It was great to see you, Tucker. G’bye now.”
What he means is, Get the hell off my property. If he had a shotgun, he’d pump it.
Tucker chuckles and shakes his head, trying to assure me that Jack doesn’t ruffle his feathers. He does move to leave, but not before he bends to kiss my cheek and whispers in my ear, “Looking forward to Saturday.”
It’s a slightly dirty tactic on his part. I wonder if he ever gives the judge a little peck in the courtroom. Your honor—mwah—I rest my case.
I stand there as he drives off and when I turn back, Jack is gone. He’s back up in his office with the door closed.
That no good, rotten…
I march right in.
“What was that?!”
“I’ll have to call you back,” he says before hanging up his phone.
“Why were you so rude down there? You’re Mister Busy Busy Bee all day, but apparently you had time to moderate my conversation with Tucker? You stood over us like the Grim Reaper.”
He watches me stomp around and shout with a steady, narrowed gaze. “Done?”
“Not even close.”
“Tucker and I don’t get along.”
“Yes, obviously I understand that now. Why didn’t you just tell me that instead of acting like that down there?” I force a deep breath and attempt a calmer tone. “If you don’t want me to go with him to the wedding, I won’t. I’m not trying to cause trouble.”
“I don’t want you to go with him.”
I’m surprised he’s being honest about that.
“In fact,” he continues. “I don’t think you should go at all.”
I realize then that we’re both trying hard to stay calm, but it’s a losing battle. He and I burn hot, and this conversation isn’t going to end well. Still, I press on.
“Are you upset with me?” I ask, slightly embarrassed that my voice sounds so wobbly.
Throughout all our antics, I’ve never seen him act like this. I have a feeling he’s mad about more than Tucker’s visit.
He leans back in his chair and assesses me coldly.
“No, I’m not upset with you. I’d just like to know how long you plan on doing this.”
“Playing this game. Staying here and acting like you belong.”
Something twists in my stomach, a feeling as painful as a sucker punch. I don’t like his tone, and I don’t like where this conversation is headed. I’d turn and leave, save myself from the sharp edge of his temper, but he continues before I can move.
“It’s been almost three weeks. I admit, Helen and I—we thought you’d be gone by now.”
“What gave you that impression?” My voice is shrouded in confusion. “Haven’t I been a good employee? I work nonstop. I do everything you and Edith ask of me—”
“Look at it from my point of view. Some rich housewife from fucking California shows up on my doorstep with blood on her face, asking for a job. The only intel I have on her is that she’s a spoiled girl with a history of dramatic, short-lived gestures. The only reason you’re here is as a favor to your sister—a favor I’ve regretted ever since I granted it.”
“Why’s that? Haven’t I done everything you’ve asked me to? Scrubbed your floors? Put up with your shit?”
“You’re a distraction.”
I know he’s referring to his ranch hands, but I have a sneaking suspicion that he might be included in there too. I won’t let him skate by that easily. If he wants to hurt me, he’d better do it with the truth.
He sidesteps the question. “I think it’s time for you to go home, don’t you? I saw those flowers in the trash. I read that note.”
I step toward his desk, shifting my pain to anger. “That’s none of your business. If you want me gone, look me in the eye and tell me I’m not good at my job. I don’t think you have one legitimate reason for hating me, just a bunch of secondhand bullshit from other people.”
My hands fist by my sides and my upper lip curls. His brown eyes are shooting daggers as we stare across his desk at one another.
“It just doesn’t make sense. What game are you playing? You’re not from here. You have no real family, and the family you do have wasn’t thrilled to hear you’d shown up. No real friends. There’s no reason for you to be here anymore.”
“Sounds like you’ve figured it all out. You know exactly who I am, Jack.” I add in a condescending round of applause.
“Flirting with the ranch hands, accepting dates with Tucker—does your husband know you’ve already moved on? I bet not.” He pauses for just a beat. “Yeah, I have a pretty good idea of who you are, Meredith. You have a husband back home worrying himself sick over you, and I don’t even think you care. I think you like the attention, and I think you like playing games with men you have no intention of loving.”
It’s one thing to stand here and have my faults and failures thrown at me, and quite another to stand here and let him fling baseless accusations at me. He’s decided to play judge, jury, and executioner. He thinks I’m a bored sociopath with a doting husband waiting for me back in California and a trail of idolizers in my wake. To hear him actually say it makes me so angry that my fingernails dig into my skin as I fist my palms even tighter. There’s fire burning up inside of me so powerful, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to douse it. It’s anger like I’ve never felt. If I were a juvenile superhero, this would be the moment I lose control of my power and blow up a city. But, here in reality, the only things I lose control of are the tears gathering in the corners of my eyes.
Ever since I married Andrew, I’ve been misjudged and misunderstood by the people around me: my parents, Helen, my so-called friends in California. I’ve dealt with their assumptions and mistruths, and I’ve accepted their loyalty to Andrew over me in stride. Sure, it’s painful, but I’ve tolerated it because I knew the real truth.
But, to hear Jack so taken in by Andrew’s manipulation from over a thousand miles away is unbearable. It’s the knockout punch. There’s nothing left because now I fully realize that whatever evil is inside Andrew, he’s poisoned me with it. No matter where I go, I’ll carry it around with me forever, ruining my hopes for a new beginning.
If I weren’t so furious, I think my trembling knees would buckle. My heart is beating so wildly it scares me. I feel numb and tingly and so full of helplessness that I want to scream until my throat is sore and my voice is gone.
I realize then that Jack is looking at me with new eyes, not quite as full of rage as they were a few minutes ago. It’s obvious my reaction is scaring him—I’m glad. I hope he sees how deeply his words have wounded me.
“So the story of Meredith is open and shut. Why don’t we move on to you, Jack?” I dig deep to conjure up a wicked, half-crazed smile. “I used to think the rough appearance you wear was all for show. I thought deep down, you weren’t really the demon people think you are. I was wrong, just like you’re wrong about me. You’re the meanest asshole I’ve ever met, which is saying something because I was married to a monster, but you? You might have him beat.” I laugh acerbically. “I even find it all a little hilarious—I escape from hell just to run right into the arms of the devil.”
Jack’s not at the farmhouse on Friday, and I don’t care to ask Edith where he went—back to the underworld, most likely. I still do my job; I scrub that asshole’s kitchen and I hang up his clothes and I make his lunch and I don’t burn the place down. If anything, that would probably make him more comfortable, sitting amongst the flames and charred embers.
I think of all the ways I could sabotage his life, from the extreme (poisoning his mouthwash) to the mundane (brewing decaf in the morning so he gets caffeine withdrawal). I replay our argument in his office and insert different responses. A part of me wishes I’d just given him a classic fuck off—simple and straight to the point. Maybe the next time I see him, I’ll say it.