Second Chance Boyfriend

By: Monica Murphy

Chapter Ten

The best proof of love is trust. – Dr. Joyce BrothersFableI enter my apartment humming. I never hum. But I’m so freaking happy I feel like I could break out in song at any given moment. Considering I sing like crap, I think it’s safer to hum a song I heard on the radio when Drew drove me home.

I can feel the smile on my lips and I brush my fingers over them, as if I can wipe it away. Doesn’t work. Touching them reminds me of the way he kissed me before I climbed out of his truck. The way he looked at me when he asked if he could see me tonight. I have the day off work but he has to go to school and he’d been ready to ditch class for me so we could spend the day together. I forced him to go, though.

Such a stern, bossy girlfriend I am.

The apartment is dark, all the curtains and blinds are closed despite it being a gorgeous day outside and I walk by every window, yanking open curtains, cracking open blinds. The kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes and I blame Owen, making a mental note to have him wash them all when he gets home from school.

When I start down the hall, I notice my bedroom door is open. An eerie sensation settles over me, making me uneasy. I never leave my door open. It’s always firmly closed. If I could lock it, I would. It’s not that I don’t trust Owen or Mom. It’s all those jerks my mom brings over, though lately it’s just one jerk.

And my brother’s friends aren’t real prizes either. I remember the boys I knew in junior high. Hell, the girls too. I was just as bad. We all stole like crazy, lifting makeup and candy from the local supermarket. Freaking stupid.

Imagine my surprise when I stop in my doorway to find it’s my mom in my room, going through the jumble of stuff that litters the top of my dresser. Resting my hands on my hips, I clear my throat and she gasps, whirling on me with her hand pressed against her chest.

“Fable! When did you get home?” She fans her hand in front of her face like she’s some Southern belle about to faint in the wretched heat. “You scared the life out of me.”

“Good.” I flick my chin in her direction. “What are you doing in here?”

She sneers at me, the Southern belle act evaporating like smoke. “No, ‘Hi, Mom, how are you?’ Since when did you get so rude?”

“About the same time you started neglecting us completely.” I enter my room, already weary with the fight. My high has come crashing down and I’m left facing the reality that is my shitty relationship with my no-good mother. “Why are you going through my stuff?”

“I lost something.” She tilts her nose in the air, a sure sign she’s lying. “A ring of mine has gone missing.”

Like I’d steal her crappy jewelry. “What are you trying to say?”

“Did you take it?”

“Why would I take your old-ass jewelry?” She’s probably pawned or sold everything off anyway. She has nothing of any value anymore. I don’t have anything either, but I never really did.

I do have a stash of tip money in my room, though. Hidden in a sweater pocket deep in my closet.

“Christ, you’re a brat,” Mom mutters, shaking her head as she starts for the door. “Can’t even have a decent conversation with me.”

“You just can’t barge into my room and go through my things,” I call after her. She needs to know her boundaries. More than anything, she needs to know she’s not welcome in here.

“I can too.” She turns on me, her expression indignant, her green eyes, so much like mine though a little faded and a lot jaded, blaze fire as she glares at me. “This is my apartment. The lease is in my name. I own all of this stuff. I bought everything in here for you. If I want to go through it, I have every right.”

“Give me a break. The furniture is hand-me-downs from relatives and friends. All the stuff in here, the clothes and the cheap jewelry and everything you see?” I wave my fingers around. “I bought it with money I earned. And your name may be on the lease, but I’m the one who pays all the bills every month. So don’t act like a righteous bitch who can take everything from me just because you’re my mom. I’m an adult. You don’t own me.”

I release a shuddering breath, surprised at my outburst. I can’t believe what I just said to her. I’ve been holding that in for months. Hell, for years. And now I’m so angry, I’m literally shaking.

Where’s Drew’s miracle shrink when I need her?

“How dare you talk to me like that?” Mom whispers, her voice rough, her jaw tight. “You are the most ungrateful child ever. Fine, if you’re such a high and mighty princess who can support yourself without me, then go find your own damn place to live.”

“I’ve been thinking you should be the one to leave instead. You can’t afford this place on your own and you know it. You don’t even have a job. At least I pay the rent and take care of Owen.” I hate her. I didn’t realize the depths of my hatred for her but this conversation, everything she’s saying, how she’s acting, it all seals the deal.

She’s awful. A spiteful woman who couldn’t give a crap about me or Owen. All she cares about is herself.

“You can’t kick me out of my own house.” She straightens her shoulders and pushes her bleached blonde hair away from her face. My mom looks tired. Old. Small and mean. Her eyes are hazy and I wonder if she’s drunk. Or high.

She disgusts me. I can hardly stand looking at her. Yet…I also feel sorry for her. She’s my mom. Only forty-two years old and look at her, with her crappy life and her crappy boyfriend, going nowhere fast. I’ve been scared for years I’ll end up exactly like her.

But I’m nothing like her. I have ambitions and dreams. I’m just putting them on hold until Owen’s old enough to take care of himself.

“Go back to Larry’s, Mom. Go stay there and leave Owen and me alone, okay? Do you need money? Is that why you’re digging around my room? I’ll give you money. Just…let us be.” I go to the kitchen where I left my purse on the counter and dig through it, finding my wallet and pulling out a wad of dollar bills from last night’s tip money. “Is this what you were looking for?” I ask her when she follows me into the kitchen, holding the cash out toward her.

She snatches the money from my fingers and stuffs it into the front pocket of her jeans. “I won’t refuse it.”

Great. Doesn’t even bother with a thank-you. She’s a real prize.

“Maybe I should stick around until Owen comes home.” Mom leans against the kitchen counter, trying her best for nonchalance. I know she’s really trying to get a rise out of me. Again. “I need to spend more time with my baby boy.”

I refrain from rolling my eyes but just barely. “He’s going to his friend’s house after school.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, he’s working on a class project with his friend after school. He won’t be home for hours.” I’m totally lying. They worked on the project last night. But I don’t want her lurking around here waiting for Owen and freaking him out. He’s uncomfortable around her.

Pretty sad when a kid doesn’t like being around his mother because she’s so removed from his day-to-day life.

“Great. So I’m not around, you’re not around, what kind of trouble is he getting into if we’re all too busy for him? Stupid kid,” she mutters, shaking her head.

That does it. How dare she criticize Owen? “He’s a child. What do you expect him to do if no one is around to supervise him?”

“Well, where are you?” she accuses.

“I’m working!” The words explode from my chest. “Where the hell are you? Oh, I know, you’re out drinking and doing drugs with your asshole boyfriend. Maybe you’re sleeping in all day when you should be out hunting for a job? When you should be, you know, staying at home so you can be here for your son? Don’t blame me for your inadequacies as a mother. It’s not my fault you have better things to do.”

I’m riled up all over again. No one else does this to me. No one. I’m usually the calm in a storm. I’ll rush to someone’s defense in a heartbeat, but I don’t get worked up easily. I’m also loyal to a fault.

My loyalty to my mom disappeared years ago. I can’t count on her. No one can. She always acts like the victim or blames everyone else for her mistakes. She can’t own up to the fact that she sucks as a mother and she’s lazy.

So I don’t mind reminding her of both.

“I won’t tolerate your disrespect. I am your mother,” she stresses.

“Then act like one.” My voice is calm. Like scary calm. I cross my arms in front of my chest, practically daring her to step into the role she’s supposed to embrace every day of her life. Knowing full well she won’t.

“I don’t need this sort of abuse.” She grabs her purse from where she left it on the coffee table and slings it over her arm, heading toward the door without looking at me once. “You can go to hell, Fable.”

She slams the door behind her and a fall apart. Just…completely fall apart like a crying, out-of-control baby. I curl up on the couch and press my hands to my face, my tears soaking my palms. My entire body is shaking, I’m so angry, so frustrated, so…

Ugh. There are too many emotions coursing through me to try to sort them all out. I’ve gone from the most extreme high to the most extreme low in a matter of minutes and my mind, my heart can’t take it any longer.

Despite my anger, it feels good to cry. It’s a release from all the built up resentment and tumultuous emotions that have been swirling within me the last few months. Hell, the last few years. I don’t know how long I sit here, crying until my chest aches and my eyes sting, when I finally throw back my head and stare up at the ceiling.

My mom hates me and I hate her. I have to reconcile that fact and come to terms with it. I need to protect Owen from her too. I should probably get serious about finding another apartment because I wouldn’t put it past Mom to pull some stunt and somehow screw us out of living here.

There’s a lot to do, but what else is new? I take care of everything and everyone. It doesn’t even occur to me I could’ve asked for help from Drew until this very moment. One text message, one simple word and he would’ve dropped everything and come running to my rescue.

Wouldn’t he?

How I hate that I doubt him even a little bit.DrewI’m in the midst of planning a special night for Fable when I get the call from the one person I dread talking to more than any other. I’m so caught up in searching for the right place to take Fable to dinner tonight, I don’t bother checking who’s on the other end when I pick up my cell and answer with a distracted hello.

“Andrew.” Fuck me sideways. The sound of Adele’s voice sends icy shivers down my spine. “I can’t believe you answered.”

“It was a mistake, trust me.” I pull the phone away from my ear, ready to end the call, but I can hear her frantically saying my name, begging me not to hang up.

Like an idiot, I bring the phone back to my ear, silently waiting for her explanation.

What the hell could she have to say to me? Why am I giving her a chance to explain anything? Am I doing it for my dad? Because I sure as hell have no reason to talk to her ever again. Not after that bomb she dropped on me the day Fable and I left Carmel.

Vanessa’s not your sister, Andrew. She’s your daughter.

I close my eyes against the memory. How downright excited Adele had sounded when she made that outrageous declaration. I’ve talked about Vanessa with Dr. Harris. She knows the circumstances that surround Vanessa’s death, my guilt over leaving her alone. How it’s my fault she’s dead. How my affair with my stepmom might’ve resulted in the birth of Vanessa. My sister, my daughter… Hell, I still don’t know what to believe.

There’s also that underlying fear Adele will confess all to my dad and he’ll hate me for what I’ve done. The threat of divorce makes people do crazy things to keep their marriage together. It also makes people do outrageous things to break up their marriage for good.

Adele is a loose cannon. I’m scared to death she’ll reveal all my secrets and I’ll look like the world’s worst son. The very last thing I want to do is disappoint my dad.

Too late for that. I’ve disappointed him countless times and most of the stuff I’ve done, he doesn’t know about.

“Your father wants to leave me,” she finally says.

I crack open my eyes, stare blearily at the blurred laptop screen in front of me. “I thought you two already kissed and made up.”

“I know he went to see you this weekend. The question I have is why? It’s not like you two are close anymore. What did you promise to tell him? Did you talk about me? What did you say?” She sounds panicked—and completely self-absorbed.

Typical.

“We hardly talked about you at all, not beyond him explaining briefly that the two of you were having trouble and he’s ready to file for divorce.” I can’t believe I’m explaining myself to her but as sick as it sounds, we’re in this secret together. Both of us have plenty to lose if it’s revealed.

“You’re lying. You’re trying to convince him to leave me and I won’t allow it, Andrew. You’re just as guilty in this situation between us as I am. I refuse to take the fall for it.” Her voice is low, full of icy-cold venom.

“His reasoning for leaving you has nothing to do with…us.” I choke the last word out. There was never any us with me and Adele. More like her dragging me under and me helpless to fight it. “It has to do with you screwing around with some golf pro.”

She sucks in a harsh breath. Guilty. “Is that what he told you?”

“I shouldn’t be having this conversation with you.” Damn it, why am I still talking to this bitch? “I’m hanging up now. Don’t bother calling me again.”

Before she can get another word out, I end the call, throwing the phone across the room so it hits the wall and bounces on the carpet with a satisfying thud.

But I’m still not satisfied. I’m mad. At myself for answering the damn call and listening to what she had to say. At Adele for contacting me when I explicitly told her I refused to talk to her ever again.

I broke my own rule, though, didn’t I? So how can I blame her when I’m just as guilty?

My phone dings from where it sits on the floor and I go pick it up, dreading to see if it’s a text from Adele.

But it’s not.

Are you out of class yet?

Despite my anger, I smile and answer Fable.

Yeah. What’s up?

Can you come get me?

I’m typing my answer when another text from her comes through.

I understand if you’re busy. I just…need to see you.

Worry crashes through me and I tell her give me ten minutes.* * * *She’s waiting for me at the foot of the stairwell that leads to her front door and I pull up beside her. She climbs into the truck and slams the door, staring straight ahead as if she can hardly look at me, and I’m quietly freaking out.

“Are you okay?” I slip the truck into park, my nerves doing somersaults in my stomach. She’s not acting right.

A sigh escapes her and she slowly shakes her head. “I got into a fight with my mom.”

“Just now?”

“A few hours ago.” She hangs her head, staring at her lap. “I said terrible things to her. What’s worse is I don’t regret it.”

“Hours ago? Fable, why didn’t you call me sooner?”

She shrugs. “I didn’t want to bother you.”

Holy shit. Does she not get it? I’d go to the ends of the earth for her. After everything she’s done for me. How selfless she is, how she always, always comes to my rescue…

Reaching out, I settle my hand on her slender shoulder and give it a gentle squeeze. “I can’t help you if you don’t let me in.”

Fable releases a shuddering breath and finally looks at me. Her skin is pale, her expression emotionless. “I’m used to doing things on my own, you know? I’ve never had anyone on my side. Not really.”

“Not Owen?”

“He doesn’t count since he’s just a kid.”

“Well, he definitely came rushing to your defense when he punched me yesterday,” I point out.

A little smile appears and she rolls her eyes. “He was sorta amazing when he did that, huh?”

“My jaw still hurts.” I run my hand over the spot where his fist connected with my face.

“I’m sorry.” She doesn’t sound sorry at all and I let it go. If she was my sister and some jackass had broken her heart, I would’ve done the same thing.

“Fable.” Her gaze jerks to mine once more. “I want to be there for you. Always. I know I’ve not proven myself to you yet but I will. I swear. I want to make a promise to you.”

She clears her throat, looking nervous. “What sort of promise?”

Reaching across the center console, I grab her hand and lace our fingers together. “No matter what, from this day forward, I’m here for you. You need me and I’ll come running.”

Her lips part, like she’s going to say something, but then she presses them together with a wince. “I want to believe you, I do. But I’m afraid you’ll leave me again. And I don’t know if I could take that.”

I squeeze her hand tight. “What can I do to prove to you I won’t leave. Tell me. I’ll do it.”

“You’ll do anything?”

“Anything.” I nod furiously, my heart aching. If she rejects me, I’ll lose it. But I’ve also asked for it. She’s fragile right now. Me walking back into her life, the fight with her mom, her worry over her brother… She takes on so much. There’s only so much a person can handle before they reach their breaking point.

She releases a harsh breath. “I want to pretend we have a normal, fun relationship. No worries, no stress. I want to forget about my mom, how I’m going to pay the bills, where I’m going to find a new place to live—”

“Wait a minute.” I cut her off. “You’re looking for a new place to live?”

“I’ve thought about it,” she admits. “The rent’s a lot here since it’s a three-bedroom and my mom’s never there. She uses our place for storage more than anything. I want to find a cheaper place for just Owen and me.”

My mind is spinning with ideas, all of them involving Fable and her brother moving in with me.

She’d laugh in my face. We’ve been back together—if you could call it that—what? A couple of days? No way would she move in with me.

“But I don’t want to worry about any of that right now,” she says firmly as she pulls her hand from mine. She waves it in the air, as if dismissing all of her problems with a flick of her fingers. “I’m sick of worrying and being stressed out over money, what Owen’s doing, if he’s getting good grades, if he’s lying to me. Worrying about my mom and what she’s doing and why she hates us so much.”

“She doesn’t hate—”

“She hates us,” Fable repeats, interrupting me. “She hates me especially. We’re a burden to her. If she could make us disappear, she probably would.”

Damn. We always focus on my problems but she’s just as much of a mess as me. Her mom sounds like a world-class bitch.

“Forget about her. I am.” She smiles but it doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “Let me pretend for just a little while we’re normal. That we don’t have issues and secrets and problems, that our lives are easy and we’re just two people who are falling for each other.”

I’ve already completely fallen for her. I thought she felt the same way. “If that’s what you want, I’ll give it to you. I’ll give you whatever you want.”

The smile grows, lights up her eyes. There’s my girl. “Thank you,” she whispers.

Unable to take it anymore, I touch her. Thread my fingers through her hair so I can cup the side of her head and bring her lips to mine. “Why are you thanking me?”

“Thank you for getting me. And for wanting to make me happy.” She closes her eyes when I kiss her and I study her face, her thick eyelashes, her tiny nose. “We’re probably avoiding the inevitable, but I’m tired of dealing with the heavy stuff. I’m jealous of people without problems.”

“Everyone has problems,” I point out.

She opens her eyes. “As heavy as mine? As heavy as yours?”

“Point taken.”

Top Books