The perfect match, p.48
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       The Perfect Match, p.48

         Part #2 of Blue Heron series by Kristan Higgins
 
Page 48

  Author: Kristan Higgins

  “Look, I’m going through some stuff, Honor, and people screw up, and I’m sorry! Are you going to hold this against me for my whole life?”

  “No,” Honor said. “I’m really over it. But I just don’t—”

  “You can forgive, you just can’t forget that I dared to get the man you wanted. You know what? Forget it. ”

  “Dana—” Nope. She’d hung up.

  And that was just fine with Honor. Dana was demanding, selfish and always managed to give herself carte blanche when it came to her dealings with other people. She was always the wronged party, and never at fault.

  While life had felt emptier without her friendship for a while, it also felt cleaner. Other people had filled the space Dana and Brogan had left.

  She had Tom now. Didn’t she?

  The silence of the house was deafening.

  Where was he? What happened today? Was she really going to have to call Levi and see if there’d been any accidents?

  Spike yawned, then began gnawing on Honor’s thumb.

  The door opened, and Tom walked in. Unsteadily.

  “Hey,” Honor said, rising to her feet.

  “Hallo, darling,” he said. He put his wallet on the hall table and missed.

  “Have you been drinking?”

  “Yes. ”

  “And driving?” she barked.

  “No, darling. I’m not a bloody idiot, am I? No, I drove stone-cold sober from the college to O’Rourke’s and then had a drink. More than one. And then I walked home to our pleasant abode to find my affianced, adorably concerned. ”

  “I was concerned. Why didn’t you call me?”

  “Sorry. I should have. Hindsight and all that. But here I am all the same. ” Spike jumped off the couch to growl. “Hallo, Ratty,” Tom said. “Careful, I’d hate to step on you. ” Spike took the laces of Tom’s shoes in her teeth and whipped her head back and forth.

  The phone rang again. Honor answered it. “Hey, it’s Colleen. Just wanted to make sure Tom got home okay. Connor took his keys. ”

  “He’s here and fine,” Honor said. “Thanks, Coll. And thank Connor for me, too. ”

  “No prob, hon. He’s a sweetheart, your Tom. See you soon!”

  She hung up the phone. “I thought you were going to cut back,” she said.

  “And I have,” he said. “Three drinks is hardly pissed, my sweet little Puritanical nag. Nor is four. ”

  “Connor O’Rourke had to take your keys. ”

  “No, love. I gave him my keys on the minute possibility that I might have a fit of idiocy and decide to drive. ” He certainly sounded sober. “Now, I’m going to bed, darling. Care to join me?”

  She didn’t answer.

  “Right. Good night, then. ”

  With that, Tom gently shook Spike free and went upstairs, leaving Honor standing in the middle of the living room, surrounded by the quiet once more.

 

 

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

  IT HAD BEEN five days since the return of Mitchell DeLuca, and Tom was losing hope.

  Mitchell was staying in a motel down near the Laundromat. Aside from four lunches in three years, Charlie hadn’t seen his father at all since Melissa died. Two trips to McDonald’s, one to Pizza Hut and one to Wendy’s. And now, for some reason Tom did not trust at all, Mitchell was here, all parental interest after fourteen years of essentially ignoring the boy.

  It was bloody awful. Honor knew something was off. If he could’ve talked about it, he would have, but the words stayed jammed in his throat. Admitting that he’d lost Charlie, now, after all this time. . . well, shit. It felt like those words would crack him in half. He wanted to hold her, take her to bed, bury himself inside her, but instead, he was brittle and jolly and f**king exhausted.

  Charlie hadn’t wanted to see him on Tuesday, their usual night together. That was understandable, Tom told himself. The kid only got to see his idiot father once every year or so—or less—and naturally, he’d want to spend whatever time he could with Mitchell.

  “Is Charlie coming over?” Honor asked.

  “His dad is visiting,” he answered, turning a page in his magazine. Which magazine, he couldn’t quite say.

  “Really. ” She frowned. “How are you doing with that?”

  Such an American question. And she didn’t want to know. “It’s fine. ” Such a British answer.

  She didn’t ask any more questions.

  On Thursday, the boxing club met, and by the time it rolled around, Tom was climbing the walls. He had to go up to Blue Heron after this and take a look at the bottling system; John Holland had asked him to check it out, being an engineer and all. And Tom recognized it was a way of Honor’s dad showing his approval, which he’d instantly revoke if he knew just why Tom was marrying his daughter.

  But, of course, he’d said sure. He imagined taking Charlie up, maybe having a nice family dinner chez Holland with his future in-laws, give Charlie the chance to remember that he was part of that clan, as well.

  But Charlie wasn’t at boxing club. Apparently, he hadn’t been in school, according to the other kids. “All right,” he said. “Start running laps. I’ve got to make a call. Ten times around, mates. ”

  He went over by the heavy bags and called Janice. Yes, Charlie had taken a day off from school to go to a car race with Mitchell.

  “Do you think it’s a good idea, Janice?” Tom asked. “Letting him spend so much time with his father?”

  “Of course it’s a good idea,” Janice snapped. “How could it not be?”

  “Because Mitchell has a habit of disappearing on the kid, that’s why. ”

  “So? This time, maybe it’s different. ” There was the telltale rattle of ice cubes. “Charlie’s older now and not such a pain. Maybe he’ll want to go live with Mitchell. ”

  Jesus. He clenched the phone a little harder. “Janice, you can’t be serious. ”

  “Why? We already raised our child, Tom. We never signed up to do it again. ”

  “I asked you if I could take custody of Charlie, and you said—”

  “And you’re not his father, are you? You’re just some guy my daughter slept with for a few months. ”

  A solid body blow, right in the lungs. “Thank you, Janice. ”

  “You know what I mean. Listen, I have to go. Talk to you soon, Tom. ”

  The remainder of class seemed to take hours.

  When Tom was packing up his gloves, his phone buzzed with a text. Charlie.

 

  Can’t do the tournament next week. Sorry.

 

  Tom hit the call button. Thank God, the boy answered. “Charlie, it’s Tom. ”

  “Yeah. I know. Your name comes up on the screen. ” The too-familiar tinge of disgust lay heavily over the words.

  “Listen, mate, don’t drop out. ”

  There was a long pause. “Yeah, well, the thing is, it’s not my thing. Boxing and whatever. ”

  “I thought you liked it. ” There was a hateful pleading note in his voice.

  “Not really. ”

  There was music in the background, and a lot of voices, too. “Where are you?”

  “With my dad. ”

  “Can I see you? Talk to you in person?”

  “Why?”

  “Because, Charlie, you’ve put a lot of time into this. And the rest of the club will miss you. ”

  “Whatever. I’m still quitting. ”

  Tom rubbed the back of his neck. “Can I talk to your dad?”

  An exhausted sigh was his answer. “It’s Tom,” Charlie said, and there was a muffled laugh in the background.

  A second later, Mitchell’s voice came on the line. “Mitch DeLuca here. ”

  “Mitchell, listen, um. . . I’ve been coaching Charlie on boxing, and he’s really—”

  “Yeah, he says he
’s kind of bored with that, and I don’t believe in making kids do something they don’t want to. ”

  Oh, so he had a child-rearing philosophy now, did he? “He wanted to very much until you came to visit. I’m sure that if you encouraged him—”

  “He’s a teenager, not a baby. He can make up his own mind. ”

  Tom scrubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “Look, I think it’s great that you’re visiting, and I know how much Charlie loves you. ”

  “This is sounding very gay. ”

  “Mitchell, he’s been really struggling since Melissa—”

  “Dude, I don’t need some stranger telling me how my son is doing, all right? I don’t get to see him as much as I’d like, but we have an unbreakable bond. Right, bud?”

  “Sure, Dad. ” Tom could hear Charlie in the background, could practically see the hope on the boy’s face.

  “And why don’t you get to see him that much?” Tom asked, his voice hardening. “I’ve always wondered. ”

  “Not that it’s any of your business, dude, but things may be changing. ”

  Ice knifed through Tom’s stomach. “Mitchell, if you’re going to be a part of his—”

  “Like I said, not your problem. Hanging up now. Bye. Mate. ”

  And that was that.

  “Hey. ” Tom looked up from the phone. Levi Cooper stood in front of him. “Everything okay?”

  Tom shoved the phone into his bag. “Everything’s brilliant. ”

  “You up for a few rounds?”

  “I am indeed,” Tom said, and, climbing into the ring, proceeded to put a beating on the town’s police chief.

  Six rounds later, Levi held up his gloves. “Enough. You’re gonna kill me if I keep going. And if you kill me, my wife will kill you. ”

  The rage still broiled in Tom. But shit, he hadn’t meant to go quite so hard on Levi, who seemed like a decent guy. “Sorry. ”

  “No, it’s fine. ” He gave him a long look, and Tom looked away. “You wanna grab a beer?”

  “No. But thank you. ”

  “All right. If you change your mind, give me a call. ”

  “Thanks, Levi. ”

  In the locker room, Tom took a long, steaming shower, his rib cage sore. Levi might’ve thought Tom was going to kill him, but that hadn’t stopped the cop from landing a few significant blows himself.

  He got out of the shower and pulled on clean clothes. Six o’clock. The day was endless, as if the hours were swimming through sludge.

  His phone rang. Janice, the screen said. He answered it fast.

  “Oh, Tom. Hi. Listen, I know you’ll be upset to hear this, but Charlie just got home and guess what? He’s moving to Philadelphia to live with Mitchell, and Walter and I are thrilled. I think it’s for the best, don’t you? What’s that, Walter? Oh, Tom, I have to go. Talk to you later, I guess. ”

  She hung up.

  He could follow, of course. He had before.

  But that was before Mitchell had decided he was interested in his only child. It was one thing to get Janice and Walter to let him spend time with Charlie. Mitchell wouldn’t. While it seemed that Charlie had been miserable with the Kelloggs, he certainly wasn’t when he was with his father.

  No. Tom couldn’t pretend that Charlie wanted him around. For a few short weeks, maybe it had seemed like he had. Boxing club, the Hollands. . . Tom himself—none of that compared with a father’s love, apparently.

  He should be glad for the kid. After all, Tom knew what it was like to have an absentee parent. It was just that he f**king hated Mitchell DeLuca, and not because of what had happened with Melissa. Well, sure, that was partly the reason. But more than that was the fact that Mitchell had broken Charlie’s heart, had walked away from that little boy whose mother had just died, because it hadn’t been convenient. Left him in a pit of tarry black grief, and only now that Charlie was finally a little bit happy, did Mitchell want to swoop in and have some quality time.
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