I gritted my teeth. “Is he there right now?”
She was silent again.
“Am I on speaker?” I turned the wheel, heading north.
“No,” she said tightly.
“Then walk away from him. Pretend to hang up and go to the bathroom.”
It sucked that we had to lie like this. He’d helped raise me all my life. She said he’d always known about me, that I wasn’t his son, but he’d chosen to marry her anyway. He chose to adopt me. Then he used her money, invested it well, and hit it big with a product. He moved east, taking us with him, and after that, our lives blurred.
I grew up.
Sports. Parties. Privilege. Everything that life entailed.
Until he derailed it. Until he got caught. It wasn’t even that he cheated, because I knew he’d cheated long before she caught him. She knew too. I was the one who told her, but she hadn’t believed me. She hadn’t wanted to believe me, and I knew she felt guilty about that. It was the reason I got away with so much shit, but my mom wasn’t a bad mom. She was just caught up in her own guilt, her own shame, an ex that had crushed her spirit, and the potential for a new family, because Stephen was a good guy.
He was also a fucking patient guy, but then again, I’d not been around. I didn’t know how he’d been handling having Griffith at the house all week.
I heard her saying, “Okay. See you soon. Love you, honey.” A shuffling sound.
Her voice from a distance. “I have to pee.”
He said something.
I gripped the steering wheel, hearing his tone. I couldn’t make out the words, but he was griping about something.
“I know. I will,” my mom said. “Hold on.”
More shuffling sounds.
The sound of a door squeaking. A click, then a buzzing.
Her voice came back, hushed, but clearer. “What lawsuit?”
I told her about my conversation with Brian. “I’m sorry, Mom.”
She hadn’t interrupted, not once. She’d always been good like that. She’d listened through the whole spiel, and now there was silence, only sniffling coming from her end.
God. I couldn’t— I saw a gas station and swung in, parking at the far end and turning the engine off. I hit the lights and slumped back in my seat.
“I’m sorry, Mom.” It was worth repeating.
“Twelve women?” Her voice sounded so tiny, strangled.
“That’s what he said.” I pulled the keys out and held them in my hand.
She cursed softly into the phone. “You know if that many women are coming out at once, there are so many more who haven’t come forward. This is going to be—”
“No, Mom.” A knot was in my throat. I shoved it down. “We don’t live out there anymore. We don’t run in those circles. You are not to blame for his mistakes.”
“He asked about money. Jesus Christ! Money, Blaise. That’s why he’s here.”
“I’m going to—I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I hate him. I shouldn’t be saying this to you. You’re our son—” More sniffles. “I’m so sorry, Blaise. I kept you for myself all these years.”
I sucked in my breath.
Jesus. Now she said this?
I couldn’t. One confrontation at a time.
“Mom!” I stopped playing with my keys. “I am not his son. I am your son. I’m not his. I know you see the good in him and always have, but you need to see him clearly. Once and for all, Mom. Please.”
More sniffling, but she was listening.
I wanted to break him, bone by bone. I wanted to mop the floor with him, using his body to push all of his blood to the drain, and then I wanted to drag him outside and leave him there to rot. But I wanted to get through to my mom first.
It was pivotal.
“He married you for money, and he got lucky, hitting it big. But, Mom, Marie, he was never a good husband or a good father to me. Ever. He’s cheated on you since I can remember. My friends told stories about their moms having fights with their dads because of him. That was in fifth grade! He’s never come to any of my games. He only cares when I don’t have straight As. He gave me one talk when I was younger, and that was to keep my dick clean, always use condoms, and ask their ages. That’s the only fathering he’s ever done with me, and I know it’s because you made him. I heard you arguing.”
I closed my eyes. She was hurting. That meant I was hurting.
I lowered my head. “Yeah, Mom. I always heard you guys fighting.”
“Oh, Blaise. Honey.”
“Mom…” I had to ask. I couldn’t tell her what to do. She was my mother, but Marie always did what she thought was best, whether it was the right thing or not. “What do you want to do?”
Her answer came back swift and heated. “I want him out! Now! I want to march back there, take a shovel, and make my kitchen red.”
I was almost proud, my chest swelling. I also knew where I’d inherited the violent streak from. “Mom, let me call Stephen.”
“No, Blaise! Sweetie, this isn’t for you to handle. I’ll handle your fath—I’ll handle my ex-husband.”
I paused, debating, and then I lied. “Okay.”
“Okay. You said you’ll handle it. I trust you.”
“Oh. Um...okay?” She was silent a moment. “Wait. You’re done with school, aren’t you? Wasn’t it your last day today?”
“My last project, yeah.”
“Are you celebrating with Zeke tonight?”
I hadn’t told her about Aspen. Now was a good time to do so, but it didn’t feel right. She couldn’t afford to be distracted from dealing with Griffith and getting him out of the house, out of her life.
“Yeah, I’m heading to his house now.”
“Okay. Can we, uh, I’d like to celebrate the graduations—all three of you kids. Your brother and sister, and yours. Do you think we could, maybe, have a family dinner?”
I hesitated. “Let’s talk this weekend about it.”
“Okay. Yeah. Okay.” She sounded a bit more upbeat. “I love you, honey. So much.”
“I love you too, Mom.”
She took another moment, and I knew she was gathering her strength. Once she hung up, I dialed my real father for the first time ever.
He answered right away. “Blaise! Hi. Is everything okay?”
I heard voices where he was, and I knew he wasn’t at my mom’s house.
“The asshole who adopted me has been at our house all week.”
Good, and not good. He didn’t sound like he knew. That meant my mom hadn’t told him, or told him the whole truth.
She was good at that.
I was blowing her up, but I didn’t care. “He’s claiming to be there about me, but he’s not. I’m not going to tell you the real reason, that’s for her to tell you, but my mom needs help. I can’t go there. I go there, and I will put him in the hospital. I’ll give him a reason to sue us or arrest me.” I really wanted to do that. I wanted it so bad. “He needs to get out of that house and away from her permanently. He needs—”
Fuck. He sounded calm. Why was he calm?
“I’m already on my way. Don’t worry. I will take care of this.”
Then he hung up, and I sat there wondering if I’d done the right thing or not.
A second later, my phone rang again. It was an unknown number.
I hit accept. “Yeah?”
Cross’ voice came over the speaker. “My dad just took a call from you and tore out of the restaurant. What’s going on?”
I was silent.
Tell him? He’d go there, and fuck, but I didn’t want him to deal with it. That was my family, not his. I didn’t go to his house. I didn’t get involved with his mom.
But what if Stephen needed backup?
I made my decision.
“It’s none of your business.” I hung up and called Zeke.
“Yo!” His normal greeting, always happy.
I put the keys back in and started the engine. “I need backup at my house.”
Not even a hesitation. “When?”
He burped. “On my way.”
I peeled out of the parking lot.
After my call with Nate, I went walking on the hiking trails north of Fallen Crest.
I stepped through a clearing in the trees, and a feeling sparked in me.
It was unsettling.
It was alarming.
And I turned to look out over the place I’d never considered my home. For some reason, maybe it was a gut feeling, one of those hunches, but I knew.
Something was wrong.
Something was going to happen.
I pulled in at the same time Zeke came up, three more cars behind him. He’d brought friends. Brian jumped out from his passenger side, with Jamie and Oliver coming out of one of the other two trucks. The last vehicle was my brother’s, and he wasn’t alone either. His entire crew was with him. I only had time to throw him a glare before heading to the house.
We could hear shouting, and then I was inside.
The sight was not what I was expecting.
Griffith DeVroe used his fists. Often.
I never wanted to think I’d been beaten as a kid, but now that I was older, I knew I had been. He’d hit me, punched me, used his belts on me in a way that was abusive. My mom never knew. I’d been ashamed, and he’d threatened to fuck around even more on her if I told.