But my father has done the impossible and answered his own door. His forceful posture fills the frame, nearly goading me to take a step down the stone stairs and plant my feet on the sidewalk in defeat. Somehow, I stand my ground.
He wears a tight-lipped expression, eyes darkened by booze and soul blackened by hate. I focus on the wrinkles by the creases of his eyes, weathered since the last I saw him. I think, in this moment, I should have a sudden undeniable resentment towards this man. He spit on me when I asked for help. He took away my trust fund when I told him I was going to rehab. He lied to me for twenty-one years.
My emotions tangle together, and yet, bitterness is so far from what I feel. Pity is closer to the surface. I realize that I could have become him. Hell, I still can go that direction and be alone in a mansion, drinking away my problems and wishing away the “could-have-beens” with the “nows.” As much as I hate to believe it, he is me—without Lily. Without Ryke or Connor. He’s my future if I drink again.
I don’t say anything, partly because he should lead me inside without me asking. He can’t pretend he never sent all those messages about wanting to meet up or have lunch. He wants to see me, even if he denies it, even if he’s barely moved an inch from the door.
“You’re on my f**king doorstep,” he finally says. “Would you like to explain why, or are you waiting for an invitation?”
I hold in a strained breath. “I wanted to talk.”
I think maybe he’ll say something sharp like calling me back would have sufficed. But he pushes the door further open and walks into the house, dapper in his charcoal suit. I follow him, closing the door behind me, and head through the long hallway towards the outside patio.
The house feels different. I grew up here. Ran through the hallways and slid on the waxed hardwood, nearly breaking my arm. Yet, being here sober, clearer, makes all those memories seem dark and hazy.
On the stone patio, I take a seat at the black iron table, overlooking the small pond that rests on sprawling acres of land. Two ducks swim in the murky waters, avoiding the lily pads floating beside them. My father mixes himself a drink at the black granite bar, glasses clinking together in a familiar tune.
I close my eyes, listening to the reverent sounds: the chirps of birds, the trickle of the fountain, the jingle of the wind chimes. Sometimes I think a part of me has been chipped away. I know I’m not completely the same person sober as I was when I was drinking. But what if the part of me that changed was a piece of my soul—a good piece? Or maybe I’m just making excuses to drink again. That’s the problem, isn’t it? Deciding what’s right and what’s wrong in my head. I just feel so confused all the time.
I open my eyes just as my father saunters over with two empty glasses and a bottle of dark liquid. He places the crystal glass in front of me, and I focus on his slow movements.
On impulse, I place my hand right over top of the glass before he can pour anything into it. My heart beats loudly in my chest.
His eyes darken. “So you can’t even have a f**king drink with me now?”
My throat feels like lead, but I manage to find my words just fine. “It’ll make me sick. I’m on meds.” Thank God I took my pill this morning.
His jaw clenches tight, and he resigns by pouring himself a glass and sinking down in the chair across from mine. I take my hand off the crystal and flip it over.
“Are you here for money?” he asks, jumping straight to the point.
I stare at the table and gather my thoughts. Why am I here? For two things, neither of which revolve around finances or lack thereof.
He continues off my silence anyway, and I let him. “I know what I said before you went away—”
“Do you?” I snap.
“Yes, Loren. And maybe if you gave me some time to process everything, things would have turned out f**king differently.” I’m not sure what kind of different he means. Not going to rehab? Having a relationship with him? Did he just take away my trust fund out of impulse? But if that was true, he would have given me money when I returned to Philly. He would have made a better effort to fix things.
My eyes narrow at the table in deep thought. He did try to call me. He was reaching out. I was the one closing him off—because Ryke told me to. He said I shouldn’t open that door again, but maybe he was wrong. Maybe my father has been right all along.
He swishes his drink before downing it in one gulp.
My throat goes dry.
“You’re my son,” he says definitively, “and I’m not going to let you struggle because you make bad decisions.”
“Rehab wasn’t a bad decision.”
“It was a waste of f**king time,” he refutes. “Drinking isn’t a problem, and you’ll do it again. Don’t f**king fool yourself.” Before I open my mouth to retort, he says, “But that’s beside the point.” He pulls out his checkbook. “I want to help you get on your feet again.”
“I don’t want your cash,” I say, even though I know that’s a stupid choice. Because, really, what am I going to do? I can’t keep living off Lily’s inheritance. Sooner or later, I’m going to have to figure what I’m good at and make a living without crawling back to my father for rent.
“This isn’t the time to start being humble,” he tells me. “You can’t try to be sober and work a job at the same time.”
“What do you think normal people do? Not everyone has rich parents to fall back on.”
“You do,” he says. “And why the hell do you think I work so f**king much?”
“You have nothing better to do.”
He glares. “I do it so that you won’t have to struggle like this. So stop being a f**king idiot and take the damn money.”
I believe him, even though Ryke would probably tell me that I shouldn’t—that Jonathan Hale spends hours at his office because he’s miserable and alone and likes all the riches that he can afford to buy. There’s a stipulation attached to that check too. I’ll be indebted to him in some way. It’s why he took away my trust fund in the first place. It’s more than just him wanting me to enroll in college again. He wants that power over my life—to tell me what to do, to mold me as the son he always dreamed I would be. But I’m just a big f**king disappointment.
“That’s not what I’m here for,” I say, a weight bearing on my chest.
He sighs and shuts his checkbook. He pours another glass. “What is it then?” He’s more intrigued than he lets on. The curiosity glimmers in his dark eyes.
I take a breath, staring at the over-turned, empty glass in front of me. Booze would help, but I have to do this alone. “I want her name.”
“Who?” His voice has an edge, telling me that he knows exactly who I’m referring to.
“My real mother.” The woman he had an affair with. The reason why he split from Sara Hale, Ryke’s mom.
“She doesn’t want to see you,” he says coldly.
“And I don’t believe you.”
He lets out a low laugh and taps the table with his lighter, a cigar box not far away. “I knew you’d want answers. Where she lived, what she looked like, but they’ll only upset you. And I didn’t want to see your face twist.”
“What are you talking about?”
“She didn’t want you, Loren. I’m telling you not to waste your f**king time.”
How can I believe him after all these years lying to me? But a part of me digests this information as truth.
“There it is.” He brings the glass to his lips. I realize that my face has contorted in a multitude of emotions. Hurt, the strongest of them.
“You’re wrong,” I say under my breath, just so I can go back to being as hard and cold as him. “I want her name. After all these years that you told me Sara was my mother, I, least of all, deserve to have a semblance of the f**king truth.”
He rolls his eyes dramatically, and to my surprise, rips off a check and flips it over. I watch him scribble on the paper and then he slides it to me. “I’m not the bad guy here,” he says. “I’m just protecting you from feeling more pain. That’s it.”
I stare at the check.
“Did you love her?” Not, where is she? Or, why did she give me up? I have to ask the stupidest, meaningless question there is—because my father doesn’t believe in love.
“For all of fifteen minutes, sure,” he says dryly. “Now you have what you want, can we move on from all this bullshit?” He wants to go back to the way things were, but I’m not even sure that’s possible.
“I need something else,” I tell him as I pocket the check. “And it requires discretion.”
He laughs wryly and gets up to refill his glass. “Why am I not surprised? What the f**k did you do this time?”
I ignore the slight. “It’s not entirely about me. It involves Lily.”
He sits back down, hand cupping a full glass of scotch. I try not to focus on it too much. “I golf with Greg and have lunch with him every other day, so is this the type of discretion that requires me to lie to her father?”
Oh, yeah. “It will ruin the Calloways.”
My father straightens up, his features hardening. He actually looks a little like Ryke. “What the f**k is going on?”
“You have to promise, and I want it in writing.”
He gives me a look. “Don’t be a little shit.”
I glare. “I’m not being a little shit. You say you’ve done all of this…” I motion around me. “…the lying about my brother and my real f**king mother, because you were trying to protect me. Then understand that I’m trying to protect the girl I love. And I’d do anything to accomplish it. So if you don’t f**king sign something that says you won’t open your goddamn mouth, then I’m gone.” I stand up, my chest rising and falling with sudden anger.
“Sit the f**k down.”
“Sit,” my father sneers. “I’ll go get a piece of paper. I don’t think I can write a contract on the back of a check.”
I sink to my chair and watch my father leave the patio, muttering curse words under his breath. But I’ve won. This time.
He ends up typing it on his laptop. After an hour we have a contract written and signed, not allowing him to directly or indirectly tell the Calloways anything. If he does, he forfeits Hale Co. to Ryke. At first we had agreed that I would acquire the company, but he looked a little too pleased about the idea of me inheriting his business. Now stress-lines crease his lips at the very thought that his kid—who despises him—could obtain his legacy. At least I know he loves me more, but really, that’s not a very high achievement.
My father has a newly topped glass of scotch, and we’re sitting on the patio again. His contract in his office, mine on the table.
“Now, what’s so serious that I can’t even tell my best friend?” he asks.
“When I got back from rehab, I received a text from an unknown number,” I tell him. “He said he hated me and he basically threatened to expose Lily’s secret out of revenge. So I don’t think he’s blackmailing us. He’s not asking for money, but he did mention it once. He said he could get paid a lot from the tabloids if he told Lily’s secret.” The words pour forth before I have time to stop and evaluate each one. I’m scared, and if my father didn’t see it before, he does now. I feel like a little kid blubbering about a bully at school.