Not knowing what else to do, Max sat back down but didn’t release his fists. Harvey inhaled deeply, laced his fingers with Gina’s, and continued.
“We knew you loved our daughter from the first moment we saw the way you looked at her. You were still just a boy, but your devotion to her was that of a man. But we also saw the other side of the relationship—her side. When the two of you were still in high school and she’d be alone in her room on the phone with her friends,” Harvey said thoughtfully, “she would say how she had you wrapped around her finger. That was when Gina and I finally admitted that Chloe had bigger problems than depression. We felt horrible that we let it get so out of control and that you got wrapped up in a mess that we maybe could’ve stopped.” Harvey looked at a silent Max, an emotion on his face Max had never seen there before—embarrassment.
Gina’s gentle voice permeated the fog that was taking over Max’s thoughts. “We tried to talk to her, we begged her to stop seeing you. But she told us to mind our own business. She said she loved you and this time was going to be different. We wanted to believe her…we really did. Then we started to hear the way she manipulated you about your going away to college. She didn’t want you to go. We hoped you would leave anyway, but you didn’t. When we told your parents our fears, they agreed to talk to you. But honey, nothing worked.”
Max couldn’t believe his ears. His parents had met with Chloe’s? Why didn’t they ever tell him? Would you have listened? His inner voice asked even though he already knew the answer. After all, he never went to West Chester University, did he?
Gina continued her account of the past. “We had hoped she would finally let go of you when she went away to college herself, but that was when she told us she planned to marry you. All the while she was seeing other guys behind your back.” Gina looked down at her hands. “When we threatened to tell you about her cheating, she just laughed and said, ‘Tell him! He loves me, he will never believe you.’ That was the same summer you and Chloe moved in together.” Max thought back—it was the summer that she told him she wanted to get married.
“My God,” Max whispered, his voice breaking. “I was no more than a toy to her. A puppet.” He walked over to his liquor cabinet and poured himself a healthy shot of bourbon. His stomach felt tight as he looked at the two people on his sofa. How was this happening? How could he have been so blind? He tried to focus on the familiar taste of the amber liquid and its slow burn down his throat into his belly instead of the sharp pain of the words flying out of the Smyths’ mouths like darts, each one hitting the red bull’s-eye.
Eyes glassy with unshed tears, Gina explained how over the years they kept in touch with Max’s parents because Chloe refused to return their phone calls or answer their letters. But she always cashed their monthly checks.
“What? You were sending her money? I don’t understand. She never told—” Max’s brain was on overload.
“No, Max,” Harvey said in a deep voice laced with pain. “We were sending both of you money. Large amounts actually. The checks were written in both of your names. Yet every time we spoke to your parents, they would tell us how hard you were working to make ends meet so you could one day buy your wife the house of her dreams. We never told your parents about the money we sent, but our bank statements showed the checks had been deposited. I don’t know why we kept sending the money…” Harvey looked at his perfectly shined shoes and sighed. “I guess it allowed us to feel like we were still part of her life in some way.” Max stood and walked to the counter, his hand shaking as he poured another drink. “We must have sent over a million dollars in the ten years that you lived together.”
Max choked on his alcohol. A million dollars? Christ!
“Where did she put the money? What was she saving it for?” Max’s mouth asked the questions, but his heart already knew the answer. “She was saving it for when she left me, wasn’t she?” he asked quietly. He paused and looked at the guilty faces staring back at him. “Wasn’t she?” he yelled.
The boom of his voice visibly startled Chloe’s parents, but they made no move to answer his question. They didn’t have to—the writing was on the wall. They knew she hadn’t told him of the checks, yet they continued to give her money. They knew somewhere in their heart of hearts that betrayal would be her end game, and they stood back and stayed silent.
“Max…” Gina spoke so quietly Max had to focus to hear her. “I know our words must hold no value to you, but we had no idea that Chloe was hiding the money. We didn’t even think to look for it until after she died. At the hospital, when you announced that she was carrying another man’s baby…well, that was the first we had heard about her cheating on you since you’d gotten married. We always hoped that she’d stopped once you were married. And while we weren’t surprised by her behavior, honey, we were horrified by the consequences of her actions. She really did hurt one of the nicest, kindest, most trusting men around. There are not enough I’m sorry’s to make up for our regret.”