I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. Why is my mom so hung up on me going back to Karl?

I mean, I get that our family doesn’t believe in divorce, but come on. Does that mean our family believes in cheating? Talk about a bastardization of decency or normalcy.

Does she really want me to stay with him and be miserable, knowing that I can’t trust him? Knowing that he’s out there fucking other women? Knowing that he has at least one child—if not more—out in the world while I stay home, longing for my own baby? A baby I will never ask him for now and that he wouldn’t give me if I did?

It’s absurd. More, it’s hurtful. Really, really hurtful.

I know my mom and dad are all about appearances, but I always assumed there was some substance underneath it. Now I’m finding out that there really is no substance. There is just them caring so much about me not having the stigma of divorce attached to their name—like there is even a fucking stigma around it anymore—that they want me to be miserable for the next forty or fifty years of my life.

I’d rather scrub toilets with my toothbrush.

I’d rather sleep in that damn pink canopy bed forever than go back to Karl for one more second.

I’d rather be alone for the rest of my life than lay awake at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering where he is and who he’s with.

I just don’t know how to get my mom to understand that.

I dry off quickly, tying my hair up in a topknot so it doesn’t get my pajamas all wet while I get dressed.

Mom hasn’t always been like this. There was a time when she would have torn apart anyone who broke her baby’s heart. A time when she would have taken me out for pancakes and trash-talked with the best of them about whoever had hurt me.

I know when that changed, but I don’t know why. The second I got old enough for boys to be interested in me—and for me to be interested in boys—her attitude shifted. Suddenly, it was all about me making sure not to rock the boat, making sure not to upset the boy in my life, making sure not to stand up for myself if it meant disrupting my relationship. Not just with Karl but with every guy I’ve ever been the least bit serious about.

As I climb into bed, sliding between the cool cotton sheets, I put thoughts of my mother and her bizarre behavior out of my head. After all, it’s been going on for nearly twenty years, and there is no reason to think it’ll stop now.

Besides, I have more important things to think about when I wake up. Like how to thank Nick for stepping in with Karl tonight. And where the hell I’m going to get the money to sue my ex, as Nick all but promised I would.

Chapter Twenty-Four

   I manage to wake up around three o’clock in the afternoon, sunlight be damned, to the to the sound of my doorbell ringing over and over again.

I’m tempted to ignore it—I’m not expecting anyone, and after my last surprise guest, I’m not in any hurry to see who’s out there. But just as I start to drift back to sleep, I remember. The porch!

I jump out of bed and go racing down the stairs as my phone starts to ring and Dad’s photo pops up on the screen. “Sorry, Dad, I can’t talk right now. I have to—”

“I’m downstairs, Mallory, and I know you’re here,” he says. “Please come—” He breaks off as I throw open the door.

“Come in!” I all but pull him off the porch. “You shouldn’t be out there! I haven’t had a chance to have the porch repaired yet—”

“Don’t you mean you don’t have the money to have it repaired?” he asks as he casts a disapproving look at my pajamas.

“Well, yeah, that too.” I turn and head toward the kitchen, happy that I at least have the family room and kitchen done, so that—as long as I keep him in this part of the house—he won’t be able to speak badly of Aunt Maggie.

“Has it occurred to you to get a job?” He follows me toward the kitchen. “Since money is such a problem for you?”

I clench my jaw. As if looking for a job isn’t exactly what I’ve spent the last several months trying to do. Up until I inherited Aunt Maggie’s house, I was doing nothing but circulating my résumé, trying to get a bite.

“Yes, Dad. I’m looking for a job.” And if something doesn’t come along in the next couple of weeks, I’m going to forget about office managing and put my name in at a few temp agencies for office workers. The pay will suck, I’m sure, but something is better than nothing. I just need to get Aunt Maggie’s house in any kind of decent shape first. And by decent, I mean livable.

“By sleeping until three in the afternoon?” He settles himself at the head of the kitchen table.

Counting to infinity, I walk straight to the coffee maker and start brewing a pot. Silence reigns in the kitchen for a couple of minutes, which is so unusual for him that I can’t help glancing behind me to see what’s up. I barely stop myself from snickering when I see him staring in horror at Aunt Maggie’s canisters—particularly the ones marked Quaaludes and Ganja.

I’m tempted to offer him a gummy bear—he definitely looks like he needs to relax—but I’m not up for the fight that would probably ensue.

“Your addition?” he asks when he catches me looking.

“Oh, yes. Definitely. I have so much extra money to toss around that I decided to spend it on a thousand dollars’ worth of canisters.” Yes, I looked them up. And yes, they really do cost more than a hundred dollars each.

He shakes his head. “My aunt always did have her problems.”

“Maybe so, but being a drug addict wasn’t one of them, Dad.”

He harrumphs his disagreement. Or maybe it’s his disapproval. Since I announced my divorce from Karl, it’s gotten harder and harder to tell the difference between the two.

The coffeepot starts brewing. “Do you want a cup?”

He looks around the kitchen. “Do you have something stronger?”

“Stronger?” I lift a brow in mock surprise. “At three o’clock in the afternoon, Dad?”

He shrugs but doesn’t say anything else.

I don’t have any hard liquor, and I haven’t found Aunt Maggie’s stash yet—if she had one—so I grab one of the open wine bottles from last night and pour him a glass.

“Thank you.” He grabs the glass like it’s a lifeline and takes a deep sip. Then he sighs and looks around the room. “I hadn’t realized things had gotten this bad.”

“What things?” If my mom told him about Sasha being pregnant, I really don’t want to talk about it. I don’t even want to think about it—not now. Not until I absolutely have to.