“Which is why you’re sleeping with your new boss, right?” my dad asks, brows raised. “Who also happens to be your lawyer? Because you want to do things on your own?”
“First of all, his partner is my lawyer. And second of all, my relationship with Nick is none of your business.”
“Nothing about you is my business,” my father snaps back. “You’ve made sure of that.”
Guilt rears its ugly head, but that’s exactly what he was aiming for, so I tamp it back down. He’s the one who has made so much of this divorce so difficult for me. Is it any wonder I didn’t ask him for advice? Not to mention the fact that he’s made a pretty big mess of his own life—and my mother’s. It isn’t my fault I don’t want to end up like her.
“And you want me to apologize for that?”
“What I want is for you to listen. And to think about what I’m saying,” he says, looking more concerned than I’ve ever seen him. “Because you’re heading down a path that will lead you right back to where you were. You know that, right?”
“That’s not true,” I say. “I’m doing everything differently now.” I think about Nick and my desperate crawl out of his bedroom last night. “Maybe everything I do isn’t great,” I admit after a second. “But I’m trying—”
“Are you or are you not sleeping with your boss?” he demands, his normally steady voice rising in anger or excitement or I don’t know what. “I just don’t want you to end up single in a few years, without a reference again, and without Aunt Maggie to bail you out by giving you a house this time.”
Fury rips through me, digs into me with razor-tipped claws. “You may be my father, but it is absolutely ludicrous for you to sit there and give me life advice,” I tell him. “Considering the absolute disaster you’ve made of your life—and of my mother’s.”
“I just want you to protect yourself, Mallory—”
“The way you’ve protected yourself all these years?” I ask. “By fucking over anyone who didn’t do exactly what you wanted them to do? And even some who did. That’s the real message here, right? Nick can’t be trusted because you can’t be trusted. I can’t be trusted because all men will do what you did—”
“That’s enough, Mallory!” His voice cuts like glass.
“No,” I say, openly defying my father for the first time in a long time. “It’s not enough. You hurt my mother. You hurt Sarah. You probably hurt Sarah’s mother and you definitely hurt me with your behavior. So for you to stand there and tell me that I need to think ahead, that I need to make sure I don’t let some man hurt me again, is insulting. It’s beyond insulting.”
I put the cup of coffee he gave me back down on the table where I got it from. “And if you think I’m so bad at choosing men, if you think I’m destined to let them treat me badly and hurt me over and over again, maybe you should look at my role model,” I say. “Maybe you should ask yourself why it is I chose Karl and who he reminded me of. Believe me, if I’ve done nothing else over the last couple of weeks, I’ve figured that much out.”
By the time I’m done talking, my father looks pale. Gray even. But his eyes are the same as they’ve always been when he looks at me—filled with a cold annoyance that says he’s not really interested in anything I’m saying. More, he isn’t even really interested in me.
So when he turns on his heel and storms out of my backyard, it isn’t even a surprise. What is a surprise is the fact that once I’m alone, I realize that a part of me—though I am loath to admit it—knows there is some truth in what he said. And if I don’t want to make the same mistakes I already have, then I’m going to have to do something to change it.
Thank God Sarah wakes up and sees my text not long after my dad leaves, because I’ve barely sunk back down on the lounger when the door opens and my sister stands there grinning.
“Aren’t you a little old for the walk of shame?”
“Apparently you’re never too old,” I tell her as I follow her inside. “Or to get caught by your dad.”
Her eyes widen. “Dad was here?” She looks outside as if he might materialize right in front of her.
And fuck if that doesn’t make me feel more awful than I already do. “He’s an asshole.” I hate saying that about my own dad, but when it comes to Sarah, he really is. “And he shouldn’t treat you the way he does. He shouldn’t treat any of us the way he does.”
She shrugs, but the look on her face says she appreciates the acknowledgement. “Maybe that’s why we’re so messed up. Maybe we let our previous guys treat us the way they did because it’s what we were used to seeing from him. I know how he treated my mom, and I’ve guessed he treated yours pretty similarly if she’s hanging out here. It’s what we knew.”
“Maybe so,” I agree, thinking back on how many times during our marriage Karl reminded me of my dad. “But fuck that.”
She laughs. “Damn straight. I’m done begging a man for attention because my daddy wouldn’t give me his.”
“And I’m done worrying about what’s right and proper.”
“Obviously.” My sister wiggles her brows even as she reaches over and pulls one of my strands of knotted hair. “Because I’ve got to say, you’ve done the walk of shame proud this morning.”
“Yeah.” I think back to crawling out of Nick’s bedroom on my hands and knees like a commando. “But that’s about the only thing I’ve done proud.”
“What do you mean?”
I shake my head as I turn for the stairs. “Long story and I’ve got to get ready for work.”
“You’ll tell me later?” She narrows her eyes at me in a way that says it’s more a demand than a question.
“What are sisters for?” I tease, even though I’m not sure I’ll be up to talking about it later. Or ever.
But right now I need to get ready for work, so I put Nick—and everything that happened between us last night—out of my mind as I shower and get dressed.
During the drive, my father’s words are a tight ball in my stomach. Because, while I knew from the moment I crawled out of Nick’s bed last night that I was going to have to break up with him—and even before, if I’m being honest—I didn’t think I was also going to have to leave the job that I’ve already fallen in love with. The job that I happen to be really good at and is the one thing, besides Nick, currently helping me keep my head above water.