“Oh, umm, thanks.” She fumbled over her words as I watched the walls she was so good at holding come up. That damn twinge in my chest tweaked again at the sight of it. I hated hurting her. I hated it with vengeance but it was better this way. I couldn’t betray my second family like that again. I wouldn’t risk them being upset at her. “What do I owe you?” she asked with steel in her words.
“Nothing. It’s been taken care of.” I lied through my teeth. I never charged her or her brothers, but her stubborn ass wouldn’t accept me doing that. Still to this day, she wouldn’t. With my strength wavering, I needed to get out of the room or have her leave. I couldn’t stand it for another minute. “Right then. Take care, Haven.” I dismissed her as indifferently as I could manage and turned my back to her still standing across the counter.
She took the keys from where I placed them on the countertop. A small sigh escaped her lips as she squeezed them in her hand tightly, and then walked to the office door, pausing for a second to look back at me. “Bye, Jude.” Her voice was quiet and she strolled away with another sliver of my heart. I turned back around after I heard the door catch, pretending not to watch her walk to her car. I shuffled a few papers around in an effort to stay put. When I saw her taillights glow and heard the turnover of the engine I built drive away, I let out the breath I was holding in and flopped down into my chair, my elbows on my knees and my head hanging low.
Why the fuck did this still have to be so fucking hard?
Impulsively, I stood, forcing my chair backward, slamming it into the filing cabinet behind me and knocking down a bunch of invoice books, pens and crap that were littering the space.
“Motherfucker!” I yelled in frustration just as the cocky out-of-towner strolled in. I quietly cursed under my breath for losing my cool and dragged my hand down my face. Pulling my shit together, I got him squared away and sent him packing in his bullshit truck before stomping around and locking the place up for the night.
By the time I arrived home and put dinner on for the boys, I was so tired the phone call from the school had slipped my mind. That was until the boys came walking in the door and I saw their faces—a black eye, a busted lip and a grazed cheek.
“Bud, come here,” I called to Jaxson as he scuttled past toward the stairs that led up to the bedrooms. His head was hanging and his shoulders looked heavy.
He shuffled over to where I was leaning against the kitchen counter and flopped down onto one of the black stools, dumping his backpack at his feet.
“Look at me, Jax,” I told him gently. When his sad eyes collided with mine, my battered heart broke a bit more. “Want to tell me what happened?” His chin started to wobble and his eyes glossed over with tears. I reached my hand out and squeezed his shoulder silently, letting him know I would wait for him to talk when he was ready.
“Why’d Haven go away?” His little voice was so quiet I almost missed it.
“I, well, I can’t… Haven had things to…” I bumbled around, looking for an excuse I could give him. Jaxson though wasn’t having a bar of it. Before I could come up with a believable story, he cut me off.
“Don’t lie, Dad. You always told us not to lie.” He sniffed and looked me dead in the face, his voice growing louder. “You made her go away. You made her leave us.”
This wasn’t how I expected our conversation to go. How the hell did he turn that around so fast?
“I… I know you don’t understand and I don’t expect you too. It’s complicated, bug,” I explained half-assed. Jaxson normally hated when I called him bug, a nickname that stuck when he was a baby; he claimed he was too old for it, but he just stared at me with sadness shadowing his features.
“It’s your fault we’re all sad, Dad. You hurt her,” he murmured before getting up and dragging his feet to his room. I was left standing there dumbfounded and feeling like he’d slapped me in the face. I never wanted to affect the boys, but one day they’d understand it was for the best. Somehow, Jaxon managed to hoodwink me with talk of Haven and the conversation I had planned about the fight at school was forgotten. I guessed I would try again later when he’d calmed down some.
How the hell did my life get so motherfucking messy?
“Stupid bastard,” I cursed and shook my head as I walked to the sink and drained the pasta that had been boiling on the stove. “You didn’t even think of anyone else before you went and got your dick wet, did you?” The hot water splashed up and scolded my forearm as I dropped the pot and the pasta spilt everywhere. I groaned and looked over my shoulder to the unopened jar of pasta sauce, knowing I had not one iota of damn patience left for anything. I badly needed a hot shower and a bottle of bourbon or two. Reaching over the counter, I picked up the phone and dialed.