Rival Page 80

I remembered that Tate once said she loved the smell of tires. It brought back memories for her, and it was familiar. When I smelled grilled meat, I always thought of summers out by the pool. My mom asking me if I wanted another Crush. My dad—on the occasions he was home—working the grill and talking to his friends. And me seeing the fireworks light up in the star-filled sky.

Despite the issues my family had—all families have issues—I was a happy kid. Things could’ve been better, but they were good enough, and I never wanted for anything. There was never a shortage of people to dote on me.

This house was my home, and with it came all of my good memories. Whenever I escaped, this is where I wanted to run first. Patricia Caruthers could take our name, take the money, but I’d be dead before she took this house. I had to find some way to beat her.

I didn’t know if my dad was in bed, but I knew he was here. His Audi was in the driveway.

Hand in hand, Fallon and I walked down the hall and veered to the left, coming up to his office.

“Do you think our children hate us?” a woman’s voice asked, and I halted.

I motioned for Fallon to stay quiet by putting my finger over my lips, and we both leaned into the cracked door, listening.

“I don’t know,” my father answered, sounding resigned. “I guess I wouldn’t blame Madoc if he did. Does Jared love you?”

Katherine Trent. That’s who he was talking to.

“I think so,” she said softly. “And if he got married tomorrow, I’d be worried as hell, but I’d know he was following his heart. I mean, look at us, Jason. Who’s to say they can’t make it at eighteen when we failed long after that age? Are we experts?”

Damn. Invisible hands wrung out my stomach like a washcloth. My dad knew I was married.

I heard hard footsteps. “It’s not about that. It’s about priorities, Katherine. My son needs to finish college. He needs to experience life. He’s been given the gifts of privilege and opportunity. Now he has a distraction.”

I took Fallon’s hand and held her eyes with mine.

There was some shuffling around the office, and then I heard the wheels of my father’s desk chair shift as he let out a huge breath. He must’ve sat down. Narrowing my eyes, I tried to figure out if he was angry or upset. I couldn’t tell. I heard a grunt and some more heavy breathing. It sounded like hyperventilating. But not.

“I messed up.” His voice caught, and I heard the tears.

“Shh, Jason. Don’t.” Katherine started to cry as well.

My father, I thought. My dad is crying. My chest got heavy, and I looked down to see Fallon’s thumb rubbing back and forth on my hand. When I looked up, her chin was quivering.

“My house is empty, Katherine.” His voice was so sad. “I want him home.”

“We weren’t good parents,” she choked out. “Our kids have paid for our lifestyle, and now it’s our turn to pay for theirs. He’s got a girl that he can’t stay away from. They’re not doing this to hurt you, Jason. They’re in love.” And I smiled at her words. “If you want your son back,” she continued, “you need to open your arms wider.”

I clasped Fallon’s hand tighter and whispered, “I need a few minutes alone.”

Her watery eyes sparkled, and she nodded her understanding. Walking past me, she headed for the kitchen.

Pushing the door open, I saw my father in his desk chair, leaning on his knees with his head in his hands. Katherine was kneeling in front of him, comforting him, I assumed.

“Ms. Trent?” I called, slipping my hands into the pockets of my jacket. “Can I talk to my dad alone, please?”

Both of their heads popped up, and Katherine stood.

She looked beautiful in a cream-colored forties-style house dress with red polka dots on it. Her chocolate dark brown hair—the same shade as Jared’s—hung over her shoulders in loose curls, but pieces were brought up in two barrettes on each side of the top of her head.

My father, on the other hand, was a mess. Disheveled hair he’d probably been running his fingers through, a wrinkled white shirt, blue silk tie hanging loose, and he’d definitely been crying.

He sat there, unmoving, and actually looking a little afraid of me.

Katherine cleared her throat. “Of course.”

I stepped out of the doorway as she walked past, but I reached out and grabbed her hand, stopping her. I kissed her cheek and gave her a grateful smile. “Thanks,” I whispered.

Her eyes shined, and she nodded before leaving.

My father hadn’t moved from his chair, and I did a sweep of the room, remembering that I was never allowed in here as a kid. My father wasn’t hiding things. Not in here anyway. But he once said “his whole life” was in this room, and it wasn’t a place for kids.

I think that was the first time I realized that I wasn’t my dad’s top priority. There were things he loved more than me.

But looking at him now . . . his weary eyes, his physical strain, and the silence that told me he didn’t know what to say to me offered up a different conclusion.

Maybe my dad cared.

Taking a deep breath, I stepped toward him. “I never liked you, Dad.” I spoke slowly, taking my time. “You worked too much, and you never showed up when you said would. You made my mother cry, and you thought money could fix everything. And the worst part is that you’re not stupid. You knew the void you left in your family, but you did it anyway.”

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