“With Aunt Maggie.” He gets a pinched look around his eyes, and the muscle in his jaw twitches. “The house is a disaster.”
I have no clue what to say to that. If he thinks this is a disaster, I can only imagine what he would have thought if he saw the place a couple of days ago—or the upstairs right now.
“I saw all the bags down at the curb,” he continues. “My parents used to talk about Maggie’s tendency to ‘collect’ things, but it wasn’t until I was much older that I understood what that meant. She did so well for so long, I hadn’t realized she’d fallen back into her old habits.”
He turns his face away from me, his lips pursed together, and if it hadn’t been broad daylight, I never would have believed for a second that the man’s cheek was wet before I watch him wipe the single tear away.
“I should have checked on her more,” he admits.
I plop down into the chair next to Dad’s, my knees no longer willing to hold me up with the sudden and totally out-of-character reveal.
“She was always something. I mean, I didn’t understand her. Ever. She was flighty and wild and more than a little bit of everything a Martin shouldn’t be, but I couldn’t help but be amazed by her. She never did what was expected.” He drains the rest of the wineglass in one gulp. “The last thing I would have expected was for her to leave you the house. I guess that’s why I should have expected she’d do it. She always did love cheering on the underdog.”
Wow. Okay, that hurts even if it’s true.
But where Dad saw a flighty woman who didn’t meet expectations, I saw a woman who bowed to no one. Ever.
Dad twirls the glass around on the table. I figure he’s thinking about Aunt Maggie some more, and I stand up to get more coffee and give him a little bit of time to collect his thoughts.
But then he totally surprises me by asking, “Why didn’t you tell me you hired some law firm to represent you in the divorce?”
“How do you know that? I haven’t told anyone.” I whirl around, shocked, until it dawns on me. “You talked to Karl.”
“He is my son-in-law, you know.”
“Your soon-to-be-ex-son-in-law,” I shoot back, wondering how coffee would taste with a wine chaser.
“My soon-to-be-ex-son-in-law,” he repeats, sounding defeated. “I just can’t figure out why you wouldn’t ask my firm to represent you once you decided you really wanted to go through with the divorce.”
“Dad, I decided I wanted to go through with the divorce the moment I found out Karl was cheating on me. I can’t live like that.”
“Maybe so.” Somehow, he looks even more pained. “But I wish you’d come to me, to my firm.”
“I didn’t think you’d want to represent me.”
More, I don’t want him to represent me. One, because I don’t want to mix my family up in this any more than they already are. And two—and this is the kicker—after everything he and my mom said about Karl and me, I don’t actually trust him to represent my best interests—not once Karl starts spinning tales about how hard he worked to establish the firm and how most of it should thus, rightfully, belong to him.
“I’m still your father, you know.”
There is a wealth of emotions in those words and at a different time, I might want to explore them and what they mean. But that isn’t today. I’m just too exhausted. Everything that happened over the past couple of days has taken the last of my emotional strength, and I don’t have anything left for the complicated mess that is my relationship with my parents.
Someday, I will talk to my dad about everything that happened since I told them that I was leaving Karl. But someday is definitely not today. Not even close.
“I know.” I drop a kiss on the top of his head.
And then I change the subject to lighter things.
We talk for a few more minutes, and then my dad pushes back from the table. “If you’re in a pinch, I can hire you at the firm. You can be an assistant office manager—I know it’s a step down from what you were doing for Karl, but we’ve got Lottie, who handles all the big managerial tasks. Still, we can always use—”
“No, Dad,” I say firmly, even as I take his hand in mine.
Going from Karl to my dad feels like a definite step backward, and I can’t do that right now, not if I want to be able to keep looking at myself in the mirror. Not if I want to keep telling myself that I really am moving forward.
“There might be a time when I have to take you up on that offer. I hope there isn’t, but I’m realistic enough to admit that there might be,” I say. “But I’m not there yet. I appreciate the offer—and no matter what happens, I will always appreciate it. But I’ve got this.”
He looks around the kitchen, which is now clean but still needs a good coat of paint and probably a new floor.
“You’ve got this?” he asks doubtfully.
And as I say the words, it hits me. I do have this. Somehow, some way, I’ll figure things out—with Karl, with the house, with myself.
It’s gonna take a while, but the best things always do. Besides, who cares? Right now, it feels like I have nothing but time.
I walk my dad out through the backyard—no way am I letting him on that death trap of a porch again—then sit down at the patio table and try to figure out what I want to do next.
I could go over to see Nick, but I figure he isn’t home from work yet.
I could spend some more time going through my aunt’s photo cabinets so I can finish up the family room once and for all.
Or I could pick a random room and start going through it—God knows, there are way too many left to do.
In the end, though, I decide to start with a late lunch—avocado toast and a sparkling water consumed over the sink. Then I snap the pictures of the HOA dumpster request forms that I meant to handle last night when my mom called. It takes a few minutes, but I finally get all the HOA documents submitted.
Now all I can do is wait.
With nothing left but to procrastinate from the real work inside, I decide to skip the pictures in the cabinet—I’d rather do them when I have the time and can actually enjoy sorting through them instead of just trying to sift all the clutter out of the boxes. That means only one thing: it’s time to start on the dining room.
The table is big enough for ten, even without the leaf, and has several boxes of stuff at either end. That won’t take that long to go through. I do a tight spin because of the many shoeboxes on the floor and give a hard look to the china cabinet that is completely full of Wedgwood and another cabinet half full with Mottahedeh I spotted years ago at Neiman Marcus. Knowing Aunt Maggie as I feel I do not, I figure it isn’t just china inside the cabinets. There’s probably a Costco-size amount of tropical drink umbrellas or something, too.