All I wanted was my husband back. The guilt of betraying Jason’s memory is killing me. How long will it take for Mitch’s demons to convince him to leave Rollinsford for good? …And will he hurt my daughter in the process?

—Lindsey—

I shouldn’t have let Mitch think that kiss was about us…Letting Mitch take the blame was wrong. To make matters worse, he’s pulling the friend card. I can see us slipping back into the rhythm of our lives when we were young. But Mitch still battles his long-standing demons and plans to leave Rollinsford with his fiancée after their wedding. That’s fine. He’s pushed me away before. Although, I’m not sure what to do if he hurts my daughter in the process.

—Mitch—

I shouldn’t have kissed Lindsey the morning after her husband died…Letting Lindsey walk away from me should have kept her safe from the unhappiness in life. Now Jason, the man I let her leave me for, is dead and Lindsey is back in Rollinsford. I’m doing everything to make it up to her. While I still can’t have Lindsey, maybe I can help her.

 

 “You don’t think much of my mother do you?” I asked.

 

“I love Mom.” She tried to soften the blow by weaseling the conversation in a more comfortable direction.

 

“I mean Joan.”

 

“I’ve never met her to give an opinion.” How thoroughly Lindsey.

 

“But you have one.”

 

“Yes, but I’m not sure how fair it is,” she replied.

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I pressed.

 

“All I know is what Megan has told me about Joan and things I’ve overheard. Not much anyone has to say is positive but—” she stopped short.

 

“But what?” I threw her sketchbook on the counter. Lindsey turned squaring off her shoulders and took a deep breath to arm herself.

 

“You.”

 

“Me?”

 

“Yes, you. Why haven’t you taken any responsibility?”

 

“Responsibility for what?” I roared. Joan was the lousy parent. She was the adult who left me to fend for myself and treated her own kid no better than a fashion accessory.

 

“Mitch, you weren’t a little kid when I met you. You were a grown man capable of making adult decisions. You never had to go back to DC to see your mother after you turned eighteen but you still did. At first, I thought it was that you felt indebted to her because she paid your tuition. Scarlet and Peter would have done that in a heartbeat. You just kept getting on that plane and still do. I’ve never figured what power Joan has over you. More than that, I can’t fathom why you continue to let yourself be treated poorly by your own mother when you have a family that loves you.”

 

I took several steps back putting distance between us, realizing the years long gap in our friendship. How am I ever going to make up the mistakes up to her?

 

“Mitch, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have thrown all that at you. It wasn’t fair of me.”

 

“It’s not a big deal. I asked.” Using my thumb to point over my shoulder to the door the same way David does, I stammered. “I, ah, I’m going to…”

 

“You don’t have to leave.”

 

“Yeah, I do.” I reached for the doorknob and paused. “David mentioned painting. That you were all going to get together and roll the walls here?”

 

Lindsey nodded as if the idea that she wanted me there as much as she wanted to be rid of me was choking the life out of her. She wished she could take back what was just said.

 

“There’s always room for one more.” Lindsey extended the invitation to the painting party.

 

“If Amanda’s free…” Because David is becoming over-protective of Lindsey, I probably should include my fiancée more often to appease his wild notion that I’m going to go after his buddy’s widow.

 

“Oh, yes… Certainly, I mean, invite her along. It was inconsiderate of me not to include her.”

 

 

I made it a point to go to Megan’s house on the way home to say thanks for taking the dog. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been here. She was shocked to open up the door this evening and see me standing on the covered porch. After noticing how jumpy I was, Megan offered me a beer and we sat out on the stoop enjoying the night air and solitude.

 

“So is she right?” I asked after retelling the story to Megan.

 

She shrugged.

 

“You think this is all my fault?” I was still incredulous that Lindsey may have a point.

 

“I never said that!”

 

“You didn’t have to. Your body language spoke for you.”

 

“Stop badgering me. I’m not a witness you are cross-examining. Ugh! I thought you’d finally ditched the flock of seagulls look after passing the Bar,” she said as my hand ran back through my hair. The front was getting long again. This summer it had become an unruly mess.

 

“You want the truth?” she asked. The whole time Jack Nicholson’s voice is raging in my ear that I can’t handle the truth. The fact that my sister thinks I’m ready to hear it tells me she’s not going to lie. “Mitchy, you wanted Joan to love you unconditionally. Some mothers can’t do that. It’s sad that they can’t. It’s horrible that you wound up with one of those women who toyed with your emotions and played games to make Dad miserable. But tell me a time during all of this that you didn’t have a mom? Scarlet’s always been there and more than made up for the biological bitch that birthed you.”

 

“Megs,” I growled defensively, not to protect Joan but to keep Meg from digging too deep. There’s so much that she doesn’t understand about my mother and part of me  

 

wants her to continue to be shielded from it. That’s why I only tell her small amounts at a time.

 

“Big brother,” she softly reminded me of our connection. “You had the choice. If you walked away when you turned eighteen no one would have faulted you. And Lindsey is right. You keep giving Joan the power in your life.”

 

I failed to maneuver a defensive argument.

 

“Stop, Mitchy. Stop and think for a moment how different your life would be if you never went to Washington again.”

 

The gears clicked in my head as I mentally released myself from Joan. A half-quirk smile spread thinking of my life moving forward without the burden. Hanging a sign outside of a little office after returning to small town and the quiet life I miss. My shoulders slumped back. There would have been time to heal from the ugly game she plays to destroy our father. If I never went to DC for the internship when I was twenty-two, I would have met Lindsey when she transferred to Rollins. She could have been mine from the get go. All of the crap that she endured the semester before we met might never have happened.

 

The epiphany begins to crush what is left of my soul. I hunch over so that my sister doesn’t see the tears that have formed in my eyes. I don’t cry —ever. It is a sign of weakness that my mother won’t abide by and power that I refuse to hand over to her. The drops fall anyway and catch on my jeans spreading into large circles.

 

“I don’t think I have ever felt more miserable for you than I do in this moment,” Megan said softly. She hugs me tighter than I have ever felt her do before, even when Mom was diagnosed with cancer. I’m breathing heavily to stop myself from hyperventilating. I might have been able to stop everything back then but now I’m trapped in an abyss of my own creation. As she rubs her hands through my ridiculously long hair telling me it is as smooth as Molly’s, I realize I’m sobbing. Whatever else Megan is quietly saying makes me feel protected. It’s the only thing keeping me from drowning.

Copyright ©2015 Jody Kaye

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a creation of the Author’s imagination

or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, establishments, event or locales is

coincidental... That's right, I made it all up!

This excerpt is taken from an uncorrected proof of the book. Mistakes are possible... In other words, I'm human too.

 

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©2019 Jody Kaye