The Truth About Mallory Bain

BOOK: The Truth About Mallory Bain
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The Truth About Mallory Bain

The Truth About Mallory Bain

Clare Hexom

Copyright © 2016 Clare Hexom

Cover art © iStock/Getty Images

Author photo © David Hyttsten (David's Photography, Monticello, MN)

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-68201-036-5

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

First edition: September 2016

Published by

North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc.

P.O. Box 451

St. Cloud, MN 56302

www.northstarpress.com

Dedication

To Michael and Christy, my amazing children.

C
HAPTER
O
NE

M
y time of foolish decisions ended the day I decided against settling for less than we deserved. No longer would we exist as frightened mice, scurrying into the safe corners of a house where we were no longer wanted.

I gave the door handle a good hard pull and stepped inside the courthouse, despite my worries over the legal ordeal awaiting me. On a primal level, my body craved the coolness of the stone building after walking from the parking ramp down the street. I needed refuge from the blazing August sun, which was jacking up the heat index in Memphis to a hundred-ten.

Just inside the building, I found my soon-to-be ex-husband lolling on a bench, thumbs barely touching the tiny keypad on his phone.

After giving me a head-to-toe once-over, he picked up a tall, covered cup from the seat beside him and thrust out his hand. “Mornin', Mallory darlin'.”

I stretched to reach for the cup without taking one step closer than needed. I smiled when I peeked under the clear plastic lid. “Iced coffee. How unusually nice of you. Thank you.” I hoisted my bag high on my shoulder.

He smirked and looked up from his phone. “I am a happy man today.”

“For a change and on time.”

He set his briefcase on the floor and patted the seat beside him.

“I'll stand.” I pulled a tissue from my bag and dabbed away beads of dampness clinging to my neck. “I thought you might not show, since you're not contesting.”

“Ah. Was not contesting, darlin'. I've heard rumors about last-minute changes.”

“No big deal, Chad. Trade in my SUV and get yourself something sporty and sexy. I need a car that won't break down every month. I
am
a single mom with a six-year-old to consider.”

“You've been a single mom since the day you heard his daddy died. Caleb is not my problem. Never was. No fancy car's gonna justify my sacrifices.”

“Sacrifices? You didn't do us any favors.”

“Don't be so sure 'bout that.” He sipped from his cup. “Anyway, my dear lady, you'll be proud to know I am venturing into a realm of humbleness and honesty these days.”

“About time.” I snickered.

He waggled a finger at me. “You laugh. I'm dead serious. Fact is, I made mistakes in my youth of which I am not proud, and then topped it off by marryin' a lovesick gal who sucked up my best years.”

“You made sure I felt the sting of that resentment every chance you got. Lucky for you, I kept my mouth shut.”

He smirked again. “Been most lucky in that regard.”

“Nobody cares, Chad. Besides, you knew what you signed on for.”

“All the same, here's a bit for you to chew on. You saved me from the consequences of my young self, for which I will be eternally grateful, however, no matter how deeply I believed I loved you, I always accepted our marriage was never meant to be.”

I swallowed hard. A strange admission of love—too little, too late. Had I heard even a smidgeon about any kind of love during the past two years, we might have salvaged our life together.

He bowed his head. “And now you want my brand new car. Bought and paid for with the sweat of your man's brow.”

“I work full time. I made payments, too.”

He planted his feet firmly on the floor, leaned forward, and gave me a long look. “The point I'm making is, I am glad you're
finally strong enough to leave me.” He straightened his posture, cocked his head, and grinned slyly. “Figured you'd weaken again. Back down like you always do. Expected you'd be a millstone, burdening me forever unless I set you straight on a few facts.”

“Look who's calling who a millstone. I'm glad you made deciding easy—between her and your lies, and your temper. Those facts I understand.”

He stared down at his lap. Pursed his lips. “I can appreciate jealousy. Although, you see, any lies I told were to protect you and your boy.”

“Protect us?” I snickered again. “From what?”

He averted my look. He gazed down the corridor. “Probably not an issue after all these years. Best ask Jack Harwood about that once you track him down. I mean,
if
you can track him down. Got a bad feeling about that guy.”

“So you've said before. But why him? Why can't you tell me?”

His face froze—lips tightened, eyes narrowed. “Gave my word. Dang it, girl, just find the man. Give him my address and number. I gotta make amends. Pissed him off real good.”

“You never said why.”

“Didn't have to. Tell you what. If I'm lucky enough to find him first, I'll do likewise with your address and number.”

“Seeing Jack again would be great, but finding him is your pet project.”

“We were good friends once. We knew each other the longest until I had to leave.”

I rolled my eyes. “You chose to leave Minneapolis back then.”

His smile twisted into a grimace, as though he had reminisced something awful. “But you see, darlin',” he continued, “you said you miss our old friends. Help me look him up and I'll rethink the car.”

I chuckled. “Finding Harwood is important enough that you'd switch cars?”

He
tsk
ed through clenched teeth and looked away.

“What did you protect us from?”

“I told you, ask Jack. End of subject.” Chad closed his eyes and bowed his head. He spoke barely loud enough for me to hear. “God forbid it's not still an issue.”

His words gave me the chills. “Since my child and I were supposedly in danger once, let me decide what may or may not be an issue today. Let
me
keep us safe from now on.”

He set his phone down beside him. After a thoughtful moment, he looked up. “Telling you would be the right thing. After all, I'm not a total sleaze, and I did buy you a coffee.”

“Which is refreshing.”

“In all fairness, Mallory, it is high time you knew.” He paused, hissed, and shook his head slowly. “This won't be easy.” His phone buzzed.

“Knew what?”

His phone buzzed again. Glancing down, he jiggled it back and forth but he did not answer. He picked up his briefcase and walked off, swaggering down the corridor as if ignoring both me and the caller could make a difference.

Knowing details about his life would only frustrate me further. His carousing for the better part of the last two years proved our marriage was a disaster neither of us wanted to fix. Now secrets existed, half told in a failed confession. Undoubtedly the seamy bits about one of his escapades.

Yet I had just witnessed uncharacteristic regret, even though the reason behind his regret baffled me. I was curious, though, about how he protected us when Caleb and I never had anything to fear except him.

Chad's mysteries could stay on the backburner forever, or at least until I finished what I came into the city to do. I'd be more interested in his confessions in few weeks, once Caleb and I settled into one of the apartments I'd been looking at in Bartlett. It was unlikely I'd ever track down Jack. Yet Chad's suggestion that I try took root.

Chad escaped from my view to somewhere deep within the courthouse, leaving me searching the faces of the people milling about, hoping to spot my attorney. Relief washed over me when I saw him waiting beside the bust of Andrew Jackson. I was about to wave a greeting when a man dressed in white stopped to chat with him.

I reached into my bag for my phone to make a quick call to my friend Dana Fowler in Minnesota to pass the time.

“You'll do fine,” she was saying. “Ignore Chad. You don't need him anymore, and now you can sign the lease.”

Hearing her voice gave me reassurance. It had been days since we last spoke.

“I will on Monday. I need the weekend to decide which apartment is better. Or maybe I'll decide to move back to Minneapolis and leave all this sadness here, where it belongs.”

Silence. Silence so drawn-out I thought we'd lost the connection.

“Dana?”

“I'm here.”

“You're being quiet.” Uncomfortably quiet.

A longer silence. Then she spoke. Spoke firmly, as a too-stern parent counseling an indecisive teen. Annoyance bordering on anger ripped through me.

“Don't you dare give moving back here another thought,” she said. “You have no idea how capable you are. I'd say you are far more capable than you ever imagined.”

“Sure I am.”

“Why, hundreds of doors will open for you right there in Tennessee. You're not even thirty, Mallory. Plenty of time to find happiness. No point in ever leaving.”

“I guess I'm just unsettled today. Anxiety run amok and I'm sweating buckets in this dress.” A gulp of iced coffee cooled my throat.

Dana softened her tone. While she chattered reassuring platitudes in my ear, I watched the two men down the corridor. Their
conversation looked awfully one-sided, favoring the man in white. My attorney never glanced up from the papers he was reading.

“It might help if you shared everything Chad said.”

“The conversation was too cryptic to unravel. What's the point?”

I scolded myself for nearly giving in. No surprise, Dana fished for answers again, rephrased questions she had asked during previous conversations we'd had over the summer. She was a good friend, though, despite sometimes taking my personal life too seriously. She implied she knew the answers beforehand, her way of getting me to open up. It was impossible for her to know anything, since there was plenty no one knew about Chad's sins—apparently even me.

Still. Sweet Dana. My one friend who stood by and supported me for over seven years, despite the hundreds of miles between us. I wondered how life might have ended up without her friendship.

“I'll be fine.” I paused. “No worries. But even without caffeine or Chad, courtrooms put me on edge. I should get going, though. I can call you back later.”

“Absolutely. You take care.”

I dumped the empty cup into a trashcan and started walking toward my attorney. The man in white ended his visit and strolled down the long corridor with a rolled newspaper tucked under his arm.

I lifted my shoulder to hike up my handbag, overstuffed with not only my necessities but a few of Caleb's small toys. My attorney looked up and waved. I acknowledged his greeting with a nod and a bungled smile before meeting him halfway.

He greeted me with a quick handshake and his typical half smile. “Mrs. Powers. Sorry. My mistake. You are Ms. Bain from now on.” He led the way to a bench outside the room where the divorce hearing was to take place.

“I am pleased to say you will be acquiring the newer of the two vehicles. Mr. Powers understands you need more reliable transportation.”

“A few minutes ago he was dead set against it.”

“All arranged.” He winked and handed me papers to skim through. “I have a repertoire of ways to deal with these stubborn situations.” The door in front of us opened wide ahead of the handful of people dispersing into the corridor. “And here we go.” His hand cupped my elbow as I rose from the bench.

Chad sat stiff as a board beside his attorney. While the judge and attorneys spoke amongst themselves, Chad's face showed the disdain I'd been seeing for a long time. In that moment, I pictured our friend Jack Harwood's smiling face. Perhaps me finding him was a good idea, and I traced J-A-C-K with my forefinger on the table.

BOOK: The Truth About Mallory Bain
13.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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