Authors: Sandra Miller
The hesitation in his mother’s response gave him warning that there was more, so he kept his eyes closed waiting for what was about to come.
“Dear, your father is being audited by the IRS.”
Refusing to even acknowledge her last statement, Seth decided to focus on his nephew.
“What are Justin’s plans now? This is his fourth attempt at the bar.”
“He does have a MBA, you know. You’re father suggested he take the job with Lehman.”
“I know he has an MBA, Mother, I paid for that, too. But our agreement was if I took care of the tuition, he would eventually step in and take over the firm.”
“Well, I’m sorry, that’s just not going to happen, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“You’re wrong. I can turn it over to Jennings and Smyth and be done with it.”
“You can’t do that, Seth. It would destroy your family. We’ll lose everything. You know that.”
“You and dad should have enough tucked away for retirement by now that it shouldn’t matter. And as far as my sisters and their husbands are concerned, they’ve been living off my generosity for far too long. It’s time they learn to fend for themselves.” Releasing a weary sigh, Seth added, “I’m telling you now; as soon as this mess with the SEC is over with, I’m done.”
“Please, Son, if you refuse to hold on to the inheritance for your family, then
do it for me. Do it for your mother.”
“I think spending twenty years in a career you despise is more than anyone can expect.”
“Oh, why didn’t he leave it to me,” she wept, sensing that her son had finally reached his breaking point.
“Because he couldn’t stand your husband, Mother.
God, I wish you realized how much I hate the fact I was drawn into the middle this.”
“If you hadn’t made that promise, we would have all suffered, because you know
good and well your precious Mems would’ve never given us a cent.”
Mems is your mother, you always seem to forget that until you need something from her.”
“Seth! Don’t be smart with me! Everything that rightly should have been mine was given to you: the estate, the money, the firm. You have no right to judge me, or anyone else. You’re not the one who has had to grovel at her feet all these years.”
“Between Mems and myself, we’ve given everyone everything we had the legal right to offer you. We didn’t write the will, Mother. And you know exactly what the provisions are.”
The conversation left him needing another stiff drink.
“I love you, Mother, and I honestly do respect the fact that you’ve stuck by your husband all these years, even though he doesn’t deserve it. But I’m seriously thinking about giving it all away. When I make my final decision, I’ll tell the old man, myself.”
“Please, son, I’ve never asked you for anything.”
Spending his childhood making up lies about why his parents didn’t want him; picking up the pieces in his young adult years every time the old man fucked up, meant nothing? Sobering her up before company came over so no one would find out about her drinking problem, cleaning up vomit after a binge caused by another one of his
father’s affairs, didn’t account for anything? Obviously, they recalled the past differently.
“I’m hanging up, Mother.”
“Promise me you’re not going to do anything rash.”
“I’ve never been given the opportunity to be rash; my family seems to have the corner market on it, so why would I start now?”
“Thank you, then I know you’ll do the right thing. Good night, Son.”
Staring straight forward at the complimentary bar across the room, Seth sat motionless for nearly two hours, considering his options. The bourbon glistened brightly in the crystal decanter, promising to anesthetize him from the disappointment he was feeling. But he refused to give into temptation. The last thing he wanted was to end up like his mother, though he realized he was well on his way if he didn’t change his behavior. It was times like this that he missed his wife. Not because she had been the sort of woman he could share his inner most fears with, but because he longed for a warm familiar body to comfort him.
It was with trembling hands that he finally dialed the number to his house. It was now five: thirty. Silently, he pleaded for Tessa to answer; to fill his ear with her sweet laughter.
“Hello,” she greeted almost immediately, as if she had been sitting by the phone waiting, which he knew was not the case, not at this hour. But it didn’t matter. What was important was that she answered, which meant she was safe and sound at home.
“I apologize for calling so late—well, early now I guess,” he mumbled, overwhelmed with the need to see her.
“You can call whenever you want, silly,” she giggled, offering Seth a slight reprieve from his melancholy. “Besides, I’m glad you called. I’ve been worried. It’s not like you to neglect you duties as a tyrant.”
The grin that spread across his face felt nice. There hadn’t been a reason to smile for days.
“You should consider my remiss as a compliment. It must mean that I have complete faith in you.”
“Hmmm…that would be a first. Have you been drinking by any chance?”
Chuckling, Seth stretched out on the bed, fluffed the pillows and made
himself comfortable. Suddenly, he felt the first hint of sleepiness.
“Are you still there?” she teased.
“Yeah, sorry. And yes I have been.”
“Oh, I see. Rough week, huh?”
“Nothing I can’t handle.”
“Spoken like a man with one foot over the ledge. Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Just be home when I get there. I’ve missed you.”
Tessa’s laughter sounded like a lullaby. “Yeah, I could tell by the way the phone has been ringing off the hook.”
“Just because I haven’t called much doesn’t mean you haven’t been on my mind,” he grinned, even though he had no right to admit it. “Tessa…”
“Yes?” The shy tone of her voice told him she knew that the direction their conversation was about to take was a more serious, a personal one.
“If I’ve ever made you feel uncomfortable, or said anything to hurt you in anyway, I’m sorry.”
“Seth, you’re scaring me.”
It was not his way to talk about deeply private matters or personal family issues. The idea of complaining about being the reluctant, misunderstood, multi-millionaire seemed pathetic. But how he needed someone to talk to who wouldn’t judge him, or take sides to protect their own interests.
“Tess, I’m being forced to make some tough decisions that will ultimately affect everyone in my life, including you.”
“Don’t worry about everyone else; do what you think is right.”
“That’s what I’m trying to do, but it’s difficult. So many people are depending on me, Tess.”
“Are they all over the age of eighteen?”
Seth chuckled, “Yes, they are.”
“Then I don’t see why you should feel responsible for anyone but yourself, unless of course you planning on going postal or something.”
“No, nothing like that.”
“Well, then you’re golden, Pony Boy.”
Tessa Maguire’s capacity to cut through the bullshit and see things for what they were was exactly why he loved her.
Seth opened his eyes and blinked several times.
Where did that from
The bottom of his glass of bourbon, most likely.
“Well, I guess with that problem solved then, we can focus on more important things, like what are we having for dinner tomorrow night? Having to eat out for every meal is killing me now that you’ve got me addicted to down home cooking.”
“Oh, you haven’t tasted real home cooking yet,” she laughed.
“What have I been eating then?”
“I’ve sort of been easing you into it.”
“Well, I think I’m ready for the real thing.”
“Are you sure?” she asked, her southern accent growing more pronounced, as it always did when she was relaxed. “Because once I break out the beans with fat back, and cornbread it’s over. There’s no coming back from that.”
Seth laughed openly, finally dispelling the sullen mood his mother’s phone call had put him in. This was exactly why he would move heaven and earth to keep Tessa in his life, no matter in what capacity.”
“Bring it on,” he finally managed to say, still smiling from ear to ear.
“Dang, then I’ve got work to do. They need to soak for hours.”
“Don’t worry about it. Anything you want to cook is fine. I think it’s just your company I miss, anyway.” Seth knew he was fishing for a sign, any hint that she might be feeling the same way, even though he knew it was doubtful considering how crazy she was about her young college professor.
The shy giggle he heard told him the comment had made her uneasy, which could be taken either way, so it was of no help what-so-ever.
“I’ve got a surprise for you when you get home. Just so you know,” she dodged artfully, which caused his heart to drop a little.
“And what is that?”
“I can’t tell you, that is why it’s called a surprise, silly man.”
“I’m not big on surprises…just so
“Alright, I’ll tell you then, if you really want me to?”
“Netflix has every episode of
Hee Haw. So the party starts at eight o’clock tomorrow night.”
Seth laughed, and continued to smile, even after they said goodnight.
Christmas Eve arrived along with the season’s first snowfall; Seth could see the massive flakes floating down past his bedroom windows. Somewhere downstairs he could hear the dogs barking, no doubt trying to vie for Tessa’s attention. A quick glance at the clock told him it was only seven: thirty. Why was she up so early? She probably had trouble sleeping again, which worried him, the lack of it was making her moody, and dark circles were beginning to form under her eyes, always causing her to appear exhausted.
Even though he had asked several times if everything was okay with her family and at school, she always smiled and accused him of worrying too much, which offered him little comfort. Something was going on that she was refusing to tell him. If it had anything to do with her relationship with Gregory Hayes, Seth knew she would never disclose it. Like himself, Tessa kept her personal life private.
Maybe it was a simple case of her missing her children? He had offered to give her the entire Thanksgiving week off so that she could go visit them, but she refused on the grounds that she wouldn’t be able to choose which one of the four to go see, since none of them had the means or the time off from work to travel to a destination where they could all be together.
This holiday season would not be the same, even though she thought differently. Seth had made arrangements far enough in
advance to ensure that the family would be able to spend Christmas under one roof. In order to keep their secret, they had all had to let her go through the trouble of wrapping their presents and mailing them early enough to arrive in time. Even though he felt guilty, the expression on her face when they arrived would be worth it.
To make matters worse, Tessa had been forced to endure the joy of the holiday season by supervising the decorating of the estate. Normally, it was done for the community, just as it had always been for fifty years since his grandparents’ owned the property, and he hated every minute of it. But this year was different; Seth found that he wanted to actually take an active part in it, so that everything would be perfect for Tessa and her children, right down to actually picking out the twenty foot tree that now resided in the library.
Even though she had put on a happy face throughout the week long decorating ordeal, he could see the sadness lurking behind her smile. The four of them would only be able to stay for the three day weekend, but it would all be worth it if Tessa returned to her joyful, energetic self.