“I’m really glad you’re so pleased with how you conducted yourself. I hope they give you a trophy and a big ass bonus so you can buy a sports car big enough for your ego. You have a lot of nerve calling me and acting like you’re the injured party here. I’m not good at being a victim, so you can have that part if you want it. I’ve got plans to make,” she said, and hung up.
She was pissed, and she was disappointed in me, or in some idea she had where I could be the white knight who saved them all. But mainly she was hurt. I heard it in the edge of her voice, and I needed to see her. To hold her. To look in her eyes, to see if I could help in any way.
I got my stuff together and got in my car. I headed for that town in the hills where I’d left her, where I’d left so much damage behind. It was a fool’s errand. She was going to shout and cuss at me. But maybe when she was done, I could hold her. I could help her see her way clear to starting something new with or without me. That was the thing. I wanted her to be okay, whether I got to be with her or not. That was new for me, concern over someone else’s well-being outside my immediate family. She made me feel that, and I was following it home to her.
I called Tyler to tell him, “I’m going back to see her. They shut down the factory and she’s pissed as hell.”
“Then you’re driving the wrong way, brother. Head the opposite direction of the woman who’s pissed at you. Did you learn nothing growing up with our mom? You don’t wanna ask if she’s okay or if she needs anything. She’ll hand you your balls on a plate and laugh at you.”
“That’s one thing growing up with a tough ballbuster like Mom did for me, Ty. It made me tougher. I’m not afraid to face her like a man. I want to help her through this. Even though asking for help is like the last thing she would do.”
“So, mark my vote down under Terrible Idea. Good luck,” he said.
He was probably right. But I was pretty sure it was the best terrible idea I’d ever had.
What in the blistering hell was that man doing at my door?
It wasn’t bad enough he showed up in my dreams every night or that I spent half my time trying not to think of him when I was working or showering or searching for jobs. It didn’t matter that he’d made me laugh and made me come and made me feel safe. It mattered that he’d done all that as a lie, that he did those things while stealing our livelihood away with the other hand. I had to learn to hate him. Without the sick, sad, missing-him ache in my stomach all day, every day.
I was already hopeless and defeated and looking desperately awful.
Then he had to go and show up at my job. Not cool.
I tore the door open, surprised it didn’t fly off its hinges in protest. He stood there, with the nerve to look perfect. His short dark hair was just a touch longer than it had been the last time I had my hands in it. There was a trace of stubble, just a shadow along his jaw. The rush of feelings was so unfair, the way my body heated and tried to cant toward him like some stupid plant tilting toward the sunlight. I felt tears thick in my throat and my hands tingled with the urge to touch him. Instead, I stood there waiting for some godforsaken explanation.
“Why are you here?” I demanded. “I’m working. I still have a job for the moment, and I’m shorthanded because half my staff has job interviews. I don’t have time for a private meeting.”
I sounded exasperated, but there was, I fancied, a hint of relief in my voice. Because the sight of him filled some need I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge.
“So I take it you didn’t miss me,” he deadpanned, stepping in the room.
I knew I couldn’t go in my office, not when I had to keep an eye on the three watching Dora the Explorer while the bigger kids played outside, and Kim watched the nappers in the toddler room.
“It’ll have to be here,” I said, my voice low. “Say what you came to say and then go.”
“That’s actually better than I expected. I expected another shoe to the face.”
“You sure as hell deserve one.”
“I’d like to explain,” he began.
“And I’d like to rewind. This is your fault, Jeremiah. Yours alone. Everyone I know is in a panic with their livelihood in jeopardy because you didn’t like the look of some numbers. We aren’t numbers here, Company Man. We’re people who welcomed you into our lives, were kind to you, and you repaid that by trashing the town as sure as if you’d lit a grease fire.”