He grimaced, taking a sip of his own water. “I’ve been around people who’ve been around people like that. My parents and I butted heads when I was young, but it was more of a direct and blunt disagreement. I knew what they wanted, and they knew I wasn’t going to do what they wanted. There was no manipulation about it, just straight control.”
He hadn’t mentioned his parents this whole time, and I realized how odd that was. His friends, yes. His sister, yes. Not who he should’ve mentioned, though.
I felt almost shy asking, “Are you close to your parents?”
A thin line formed around his mouth. “Not really.”
I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to know about it, but it felt intrusive to ask.
Nate sighed, putting his water down. “They made mistakes. Or I was the mistake. I don’t know now, to be honest, but time’s passed. They went on a whole spiritual journey a few years back, trying to make up for things, but too much time passed for me. I’m cordial with them. I’ll call them if I need to, but I don’t look at them as parents anymore if that makes any sense?”
Yes. A whole resounding yes because I was there with Duke.
“It does.” My one hand had been digging into the armrest. I let it drop into my lap, my other holding onto my water like it was made of gold. “I’ve always known that my father was controlling, but I’ve always thought I chose to remain with him. Before I left to move in with you, it never occurred that maybe I’d been staying with him because of him, not me. Like I didn’t know I even had a choice not to live with him.” I cringed at that terminology. “To stay with him, to live with him, it means the same. To be on his team. And if I’m not on his team, then I’m out. That’s a form of manipulation, isn’t it?”
“That’s very controlling, yes, and emotional manipulation. I’m going to hazard a guess, but he made you feel guilty about loving your mother?”
“Both of your sisters?”
“And I bet you even like your stepfather, but you’ve barely had a conversation with him?”
My lips parted in shock. “How do you know this?”
He inclined his head, his eyes never leaving my face. “Because that’s a toxic, controlling relationship. You’re blind to it when you’re in it, but everyone else sees it.”
That had my whole face warming but from mortification. “Everyone?”
I was taken aback. By him. By the situation. By how he was even speaking.
I shouldn’t have passed on wine. I wanted the room to swim around me. I think I needed it at that moment.
I gestured to him, nodding, but I didn’t want to look at him. Anywhere but at him. “You say it all matter-of-fact.” I looked now, and I was angry. I was pissed. I wanted to hurt him, but I knew it wasn’t him whom I wanted to hurt. He was just the one here. “You don’t know me. You don’t know my father. You don’t know anything. You fucked Valerie, and your sperm attached to her egg during one of those bed romps, and here you are. You’re inserting yourself into my life, and you’re—”
I needed to stop.
My God, I needed to stop. I was so wrong, but the anger was still there. The words were still there, and I wanted to say them. I yearned to say them.
What was wrong with me?
The room was starting to spin now. It was about time.
I felt like I was dancing again.
For a moment, I closed my eyes, and everything was fine. Everything was right. Everything was how it was supposed to be, but I knew that wasn’t the truth. I was deluding myself.
I was doing what I had always done growing up. Lying to myself and letting myself believe the lie.
I wanted to lie to myself now. I wanted that so bad.
I wanted to tell Nate Monson to go to hell. I wanted to stand, call my father, and have him take Nova and me back to the estate.
I wanted to go back to that misery because it was the misery I knew. The misery I was comfortable with.
Fuck, fuck, fuck.
I was angry with Nate because he showed up and upended my life.
I wasn’t angry with him. I wasn’t even angry with Valerie.
I was angry with myself because I chose to believe my own lies for so very long.
I was such a screwup. “I’m so sorry. That was out of line. I was out of line, and I’m so sorry. This is all my fault.”
“What? No. How are you thinking that?”
But it was. Horror was starting to replace the anger, and I felt it starting to pummel my organs. The room kept spinning, spinning. I felt like I was doing a pirouette, and I couldn’t end it. “If I had fought him more. If I had begged Stephanie to take me in? Hell. I should’ve done something.” I felt wild inside. I was still spinning. I couldn’t find a stronghold, but I looked at Nate. “I should’ve made him hate me, or at least not want me. I could’ve done that. Instead, I was the perfect daughter. I tried to be the perfect daughter, the perfect everything for him. What was I thinking? Why wasn’t I thinking?”
“Okay.” Nate made to stand.
“No.” I was the one to shove my chair back.
The room was dancing, round and round.
The river was with it.
The trees were one constant blur. They were going around me, and I was still spinning.
I was going to be sick.
“Why is this all coming out now?” a whisper from me.
Nate stood. I more heard him than saw him, and he walked around the table, touching my arm.
The touch was helping to steady me. Some of the spinning started to ease, but it was still going. It was moving at a slower pace.
I was going to fall.
I felt the crash coming.
I looked up as Nate drew even closer to me. I gulped. “I’m so sorry.”
His eyebrows pinched together. “For what?”
That answer was so simple. “For me.”
He stared at me, long and hard. I almost thought he was going to draw me into his arms, but he didn’t. His hand adjusted his hold on my arm. Then a flat tone came from him. “You’re being melodramatic. Get the fuck over yourself.”
Dinner was a disaster.