“My dad and Lila’s mom,” he explains.
Oh, thank God.
“So yeah, all those times Granddad was warning me to stay away from Lila? It was for that reason. And when he was warning you? It was because he couldn’t stand her, what she represented,” Westley says. “Anyway, it wasn’t twenty-four hours and Granddad had the Hilliards shipped off. We all had to sign NDAs. And Thayer, I’m telling you … you cannot repeat any of this to anyone. Lila will lose everything. I’ll lose everything. I don’t even think Granddad knows the kid is yours anyway. We didn’t exactly have a chance to tell him. Everything happened so fast.”
“Is this why you’ve been so distant to me?” I ask.
His lips press flat. “Yeah. All of it felt so wrong. I couldn’t look you in the eye seeing you so torn up and knowing what I knew. It was easier to avoid you. I’m so sorry.”
“So what now?” I ask. “Do you still have the NDA you signed?”
“Yeah. I’ll let you look it over. But dude, please don’t cause a scene. It’s not worth it. Lila was provided for. The kid was provided for. Things could’ve been a lot worse.”
I’m not so sure about that.
I should’ve been there for her. I should’ve been the one taking care of her, providing for them.
“Go get yourself a drink. Go for a walk. Cool off,” Westley says. “And for the love of God, don’t do anything stupid.”
“We’re almost there, sweetie. Hurry up and finish that,” I say to my daughter as she inhales the blueberry muffin she begged to have for breakfast this morning.
I pull into the frenetic chaos that is the school drop off zone and MJ unbuckles her seatbelt before grabbing her backpack.
“Oh, Mom,” she says. “I forgot to tell you. I saw your friend at the coffee shop.”
“Which friend?” I inch up half a car length and wait as six kids climb out of a sagging Dodge Caravan.
“The guy who was at our house last night,” she says.
She only saw him for a few seconds. There’s no way she could recognize him. It was probably someone who looked similar.
“How do you know it was him?” I pull up another car length. We’re almost next.
“Duh, Mom. I asked him,” she says.
“Ah. So the two of you had a conversation?” I glance up at her in the rearview.
MJ shrugs. “I don’t know. He asked about my necklace.”
She tugs at the opal ring hanging from a chain around her neck—the ring Thayer gave me ten years ago when we spent a day strolling around in Rose Crossing, hand in hand. The ring is still too small for me and it’s too big for MJ, so she wears it like a pendant.
“Oh, yeah? What did you say?” My hands are wrapped tight around the steering wheel, palms sweating.
“I told him my daddy got it for my mommy before I was born,” she says, scooting across the backseat and reaching for the handle.
“And what did he say?”
“He said he must have loved her very much to give her such a special ring. Why are you asking so any questions?”
“No reason,” I say. “Time to go, babe. Have a great day, okay? I’ll see you after school.”
MJ climbs out and shuts the door before running toward the school entrance and disappearing into a crowd of multi-colored backpacks, and I drive home, thankful that she didn’t notice the tears behind my sunglasses.
I loosen my tie and unfasten the top two buttons of my dress shirt before shrugging out of my suit jacket. I’m hot. Burning. My skin is crawling as I pace my grandfather’s study. I need to get out of this suit and off this fucking island as soon as possible.
Whitley’s wedding was nothing short of beautiful. At least I think it was. It was like I was there, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t focus. Couldn’t enjoy a damn thing. I probably looked miserable, though I tried my hardest to put on a good face. Despite the live band and open bar and good-spirited guests, I kept myself away from the merriment. It wasn’t that I was trying to be an ass … I just wanted to keep myself from doing something stupid at my cousin’s wedding—like confronting Granddad …
But the wedding’s over.
The guests have left.
There’s a hired crew outside taking down tents and chairs and the dance floor. The caterer is cleaning up and the band is packing up and Whitley and her husband are already halfway back to the mainland by now.
My parents, aunt, uncle, and Westley have all retired to their houses, and last I knew, Granddad was outside talking to a member of the clean-up crew.
He’ll be coming inside any minute.
And I’ll be waiting for him.
Westley mentioned he and Lila were forced to sign NDAs, but if he threatened them and coerced them to sign the documents, they could be legally challenged. A contract signed under duress isn’t enforceable, and I can only imagine the fear of God he was putting into a frightened, eighteen-year-old Lila.