“Fiancée,” Julian corrected with a bleached smile.
Right. I needed to ink this onto my wrist in order not to forget. Julian was a skilled chess player. But he was also a predictable player, and his favorite method was to capture the pawns before going in for the kill.
In this case, Madison was the pawn, but I’d be damned if I’d see her knocked over by Julian as an afterthought.
“And yes, surrounding yourself with good people is the key to happiness. I found out about it the hard way. Now, I don’t know what Clemmy was talking about out there”—Dad pointed at the door—“but you cannot lose this woman. She is too good to let go.”
“What makes you say that?” I ran a hand over my jaw. I wasn’t disagreeing with him. But I found it hard to believe we appreciated the same things in Mad. Frankly speaking, her great ass, fuckable mouth, smart-ass observations, and eccentric tendencies.
“She is smart, sassy, loving, and easy on the eyes.”
Okay, maybe we did see the exact same things. They just sounded a lot less filthy coming from him.
“She respects your family. She works hard for what she wants. She always has a smile on her face, even though I’m sure she didn’t always have it easy,” he elaborated.
“Dad.” Julian sat on the edge of the bed, taking Dad’s pale hand in his. Sometimes I forgot Julian wasn’t my brother. He felt like my brother. Until Dad had announced I was his successor, anyway. From that point onward, Julian had been quick to point out he was only a “mere” cousin. In fact, he called him Uncle Ronan 90 percent of the time these days, even though he knew it ripped my father to shreds. Julian patted Dad’s hand awkwardly, like it was made out of slime. He couldn’t fake his way to a genuine feeling if he had a How to Be Human for Dummies manual right in front of him.
“I think maybe it’s time for you to take care of yourself. Spend more time at home with Lori.” Of course, Mom was Lori now. All the sleepless nights she’d spent hugging him tight when he’d had nightmares after his parents had passed away. All the birthday parties she’d thrown for him. All the tears she’d cried when he was hurting. “Maybe it’s time to . . . retire,” Julian finished, his forehead crumpling in fake concern.
“Retire?” My father tasted the word on his tongue for the first time. He hadn’t missed a day of work in fifty-five years. I doubted it ever crossed his mind. Working made him happy. He didn’t know himself outside the context of work. “You want me to retire?”
“Nobody wants you to retire,” I hissed, pinning Julian with a death glare. “You must’ve misheard. That’s what happens when people talk with a mouth full of shit.”
“Chase!” Mom gasped.
“He is struggling.” Julian straightened his back, jutting his chin out. “What if there’s a power outage in the building and he is in the elevator? What if he falls? What if he needs his meds and there’s no one to give them to him? So many things can go wrong.”
True. I can accidentally push you out the window, for instance.
“Julian, shut up,” I snapped.
“The shareholders are going to ask questions soon. It’s a two-point-three-billion-dollar company, and it is being run by someone who is not well. I’m sorry—I’m just saying what no one else is brave enough to.” Julian held his hands up in surrender. “It is ethically wrong to hide this kind of medical condition from the board. What if—”
“Shut up, Jul!” Katie barked, bursting into tears. It was not unlike my sister to cry. It was unlike my sister to be confrontational. Then again, Dad had gotten sick, and all of a sudden this family had turned into Lord of the Flies. And Julian, the classic middle management guy—good at nothing other than possessing a staggering amount of confidence—was the man who’d decided to replace him, no matter the fact the role had been promised to me. Katie stabbed me with a look. “I’ll take Mom and Dad home.”
“I’ll take them.” I picked up Dad’s medicine bag, hoisting it over my shoulder.
“No, they can stay here. I . . .” Julian put his hand on Dad’s arm. We both shut him up with a glare.
“I’ll handle this,” I assured my baby sister.
“C’mon, Chase. You came here by train. I have my car, and I wanted to crash at theirs, anyway. It’s close to the half-marathon starting point.”
I nodded, torn between joining them and getting Madison home. But I knew Dad didn’t want an entire production—it would only make him feel more vulnerable if we all escorted him back home—and besides, I wanted to wrap things up with Mad. It was probably the last time we were going to see each other.
She is too good to let go, my dad had said.
Too bad I couldn’t keep her.
I spent the ride back to Madison’s apartment counting the reasons why she shouldn’t be with Ethan Goodman in my head. I stopped at thirty when I realized that there were at least a hundred more in the pipeline and that I was too proud to say jack shit about it to her, anyway.
Madison alternated between glancing at me with concern and munching on her lower lip.
It was disgustingly hot and packed in the subway. Every single motherfucker inside was either sweating, holding a greasy takeout bag, or both. A baby whined. A teenage couple made out on the seat in front of us, partly masked by the backs of two men in suits who were standing and reading on their phones. I wanted to get out, take Madison with me, hail a cab—an Uber Copter if I could—and go back to my Park Avenue apartment, where I’d put Elliott Smith on blast and bury myself in my ex-girlfriend.
Which, there was no point denying at this stage, was what she was to me.
When we finally got out of the train and I walked her to her apartment, I realized it was probably the last time I was going to visit her street. Goodbye hung in the air, fat and looming and un-fucking-fair. But what could I do? She wanted marriage. She was obsessed with weddings—designed wedding dresses for a living, had flowers everywhere—and I thought marriage was the stupidest idea mankind had entertained. Never had I seen such a popular idea being utilized over and over again despite garnering such poor results. Fifty percent divorce rate average, anyone?
Nah, marriage was not for me. And yet . . .
The morning walks with horny Daisy.