Seven Years Earlier
It was time to start moving on.
It had been six months since Max found out his wife had been cheating on him again and was having a baby with the bastard. Six months since she left him standing in the driveway, watching her leave him. Six months since her car was sideswiped, and the woman he had spent more than ten years loving was killed. He hated what she did to him, but he’d spent those months mourning the loss of the life he knew and the woman he loved. But no more.
Max slid his feet into his boots and headed for the kitchen. Swiping his keys and wallet off the counter, he opened the door to his apartment and came face-to-face with his deceased wife’s parents. Two people who had hated him for years.
“Oh, Max…” Mrs. Smyth stammered. “We were just about to knock.”
Through the anxious and claustrophobic feeling overwhelming him, Max found his voice. “I was just heading out for the night. Is there something I can do for you?”
Mr. Smyth looked down at him with sad but serious eyes. “Just a half hour of your time…please, Max.”
Being six-foot-three, there were few people that were taller than Max, but Mr. Smyth was one of them. Back in the day, he swore that his father-in-law loved looking down on him in more ways than just physically. Max’s mind was reeling. The man had even said please. He didn’t want to be with these people, but his curiosity kept him standing still. What could they possibly have to say that he’d want to hear? Yet, how could he say no to the only thing they had ever asked of him?
Max nodded and led his former in-laws into the main room of his new apartment. He paced the floor, making a path on the newly laid carpet as he tried to contain his breath, and steeled himself for the reason of their surprise visit.
“Max,” said Mrs. Smyth, or Gina as she now insisted on being called. “We know you probably don’t have anything to say to us. Lord knows you probably don’t want to hear anything we have to say . . . but we have been trying to get in touch with you for almost six months.”
He stopped pacing and looked at the woman who stood in front of him. Her platinum hair was perfectly coiffed and her designer clothes professionally pressed. The diamonds in her ears and on her left hand were probably worth more than what he made in a year. She was the model image of what money could buy, but when his gaze traveled up to her face he saw that time had not been kind. Gina looked tired and old. The deep purple smudges under her eyes spoke of the sleepless nights Max himself knew so well.
“You have my attention, Gina,” Max said with a little too much bite. Harvey reached for his wife and gently guided her to sit down on the couch.
“Chloe was always…troubled,” Gina started to explain as Max sat on the chair facing the couple. “She was the reason we moved from Texas to Pennsylvania in the first place. Chloe suffered from depression. She was emotionally needy and when it suited her, manipulative. Back in Texas, she had a boyfriend, and when they broke up she swore the boy had harmed her.”
Max watched the grimace on Harvey’s face as he picked up where Gina left off. “Chloe had threatened to kill herself if she had to see the boy at school anymore. Coincidently, a job position had opened up in Pennsylvania when all this was happening, so we decided to make the move and give her a fresh start.”
The man paused to assess Max’s expression. Blank.
“Of course, we weren’t here a full week before she met you,” Harvey added without a bit of animosity. “I did some asking around and heard you were a good kid, so I stepped back.”
“Then why did you hate me so much?” Max finally asked the question that had tugged at him for years.
Looking at each other, and then turning sympathetic eyes to Max, Chloe’s parents said in unison, “We didn’t.”
Max pulled his fingers through his hair in frustration as his heart began to thrum in his chest. “What the hell? I saw the way you looked at me. You never accepted me or my relationship with your daughter.” He could feel the flush rising in his neck. “Chloe said so herself!”
Harvey quietly leaned forward, hands on the knees of his designer suit. “Son…”
“I am not your son,” Max insisted, his voice loud but shaking. Standing, he clenched his fists, knuckles white. “You hated me. You never once looked me in the eye. You even disowned her for marrying me. I’ve never been anything to you,” Max spat. “Why are you here?” His voice was a shout now, the emotion becoming harder and harder to tamp down.
“Sit down, Max.” Harvey’s eyes pleaded, but his voice was firm. “You need to hear what we have to say, and then I promise, you will never have to see us again.”