As always, this is a continuing/serial story. I share a chapter a week and at the end of the story, after I edit and rewrite, I self-publish it. To catch up with the story click HERE. To read the rest of the books in this series click HERE. Let me know in the comments what you think.
Bill Henderson slammed the palm of his hand down on Ben’s desk as he stood. He turned his back to Ben and spat out a curse word. “That woman is absolutely ridiculous.”
Ben had been back at work for half a day and already he felt like he was back in his element, far away from a world where he’d had to face his past, his failings, and situations he couldn’t fix. At least here, in his office, he had the law and the law stayed steady, no matter how much a client flailed in anger or cried in despair.
Bill placed his hands on his waist and let out a long breath, then turned to face Ben again, pointing at him. “You tell her lawyer that it’s not going to happen. I’m not giving her full custody of those kids now. She can forget it. I’m fighting for full custody because she has clearly lost her mind.”
Ben winced and leaned his arms on the top of his desk. “Bill, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Tit for tat isn’t really the best path to take in a divorce proceeding. I would really like to encourage you to think of the kids here. They are stuck in the middle of a situation they didn’t ask for.”
Bill’s eyes flashed with anger. “Did she think of the kids when she filed for divorce? No. As usual, she only thought of herself and her own selfish wants. She accused me of cheating, Ben! Cheating. I never cheated on her. Could I have cheated? Oh yeah. Plenty of times. The opportunity and the desire were there and she certainly didn’t make it easy for me to come home some nights, but I did. I should get some credit for that. But will she give me credit for anything? No. I worked my tail off for her and those kids for twelve years and what thanks did I get? None! All I got were complaints and demands to do more.”
There were times with all the negatives he heard about marriage in his office, Ben was glad he’d never asked Angie to marry him. Then again, they had plenty of negative moments without the ceremony and piece of paper.
“I understand Bill, but let’s slow down a bit here. I think we really need to get you two in a room to work this out.”
Bill scoffed. “The last time we were in the same room she threw her shoe at me.” He pointed at his right eye. “She almost took my eye out.”
Ben slid a hand over his mouth, and tried not to laugh. “Well, it could have been something heavier and more deadly, I suppose. I can make you both take your shoes off at the door.”
Bill flopped back in the chair and slumped down with his arms hanging over the edges of the chair, his chin on his chest. He was silent for a few seconds and Ben started to worry he’d passed out. “You ever been married, Ben?”
Things were going to get awkward fast here, and he really needed to steer the conversation back to the divorce agreement, but Bill seemed to need to talk.
“No.” He cleared his throat. “Never have.”
More awkwardness. “One, yes. I – uh, don’t have a lot of contact with her or her mother.”
Ben shrugged and rubbed a hand across his jawline. “I – uh – Well, it’s a long story, but I screwed up and walked away.”
Bill shook his head and looked at the painting on the wall next to Ben’s desk. “How did I even get here? I never pictured myself getting a divorce. I knew things weren’t great, but – this just threw me.” He looked back at Ben again. “How could she have been this unhappy and I not know it?” He shook his head again. “You know she used to pick fights with me? She started complaining about the dumbest things. She said I wasn’t home enough or doing enough with the kids. She said I treated her like a nanny. A nanny. Can you believe that? I was at work, providing for her and the kids, but I still wasn’t doing enough. What was I supposed to do?”
Ben fiddled with his pen, lowering his gaze to the paperwork on the desk. “I really don’t know, Bill. I’m not the best person to ask. I blew it with the mother of my child four years ago. I’m not exactly an expert in relationships.” He and Bill chuckled together, and Ben leaned back in his chair and hooked his hands behind his head. “I guess I could ask you something that my ex’s father asked me. Do you still love her? I mean, when you think about who you want to grow old with, is she the person you think of?”
Bill looked away, pressed the back of his thumb against his closed mouth, and swallowed hard. Ben could see him fighting emotion as he slowly began to nod. “Yeah.” He said finally, his voice thick. “She’s the person I’ve always pictured myself growing old with.” He looked back at Ben, eyes glistening. “But I don’t know if she still wants to grow old with me.” He laughed swiping at his eyes with the back of his hand. “Obviously not or we wouldn’t be sitting here, right?”
Ben dropped his hands and folded his arms across the top of the desk again, leaning forward slightly. “Not necessarily. Maybe she’s just too angry to know what she wants. Maybe she’s afraid. I don’t know and it’s not my job to know. I guess you have to ask yourself if she’s worth fighting for. If your marriage is.”
Ben wiped the back of his hand across his eyes, then laughed. “Dude, did you forget you’re supposed to be my divorce lawyer and not my marriage counselor?”
Ben laughed with him. “I know. Maybe I need to switch careers, right?”
“Maybe.” Bill tapped the top of the desk with a knuckle. “But what about you?”
Ben tossed the pen on top of the paperwork and leaned back in the chair, yawning. “What about me?”
A small smile tugged at the corner of Bill’s mouth. “Do you still love her? Your ex? You daughter’s mom?”
Ben looked at his watch. “Oh wow. Look at the time, Bill. Looks like times up or I am going to have to charge you for another hour.”
Bill laughed as he stood. “Yeah, yeah.” He lifted his jacket off the back of the chair, slid it on and looked at Ben. “You’re still young, Ben. Save it if you can, okay? At least get to know your daughter.” He slid his hands into the front pockets of his khakis. “And let’s set up that sit down with Veronica and her lawyer. Maybe we can try to work all this out in a more rational way. You’re right. I have to think about the kids and how this is affecting them.”
Ben agreed to call Bill’s lawyer and told Bill goodbye, sitting back in his chair as the office door closed. Bill’s situation was difficult, no doubt about it. Rebuilding his marriage might not be possible, but Ben knew rebuilding a relationship with Angie was even more impossible. Not only did she hate him, she was also in a new relationship. Maybe it would be possible for them to be civil, though, enough for him to get to know his daughter if Angie would let him.
He reached for his phone as it rang, looking at the time on the lock screen above Maggie’s name. It was only lunchtime. Really?
He needed a good long nap, but somehow, he had to push through the rest of the day.
“Hey, Benny, coming to my softball game later?”
Oh man. He’d forgot about the softball game.
“Yeah. Of course. Wouldn’t miss it.”
“Good, because I’m pitching again.”
“Looking forward to it, Slugger.”
“Slugger? What are we in? A movie from the 80s?” Maggie giggled. “Anyhow, I have a question.”
Ben cradled the phone between his shoulder and ear and turned to the computer, starting a search for a file for his next client. “Fire away.”
“What’s my niece like?”
The phone slid off his shoulder and clattered to the top of the desk. He fumbled for it and picked it up again, returning it to his shoulder and leaning his ear to it. “What?”
“Threw you off a bit, huh?”
“Yeah, a little. What — I mean how —”
“I heard mom and dad talking the other night after they talked to you.” She was quiet for a minute. “I know you told me that Angie doesn’t want you around, but do you think she’ll let me meet her when they move back?”
Ben rubbed a hand through his hair and closed his eyes, gritting his teeth. He wished he’d thought of all the heartache he was going to cause when he’d walked away from Angie almost five years ago. It was more than just him and Angie who were going to be affected but he’d been so selfish and, well, quite frankly, too drunk and career-driven to care.
He let out a breath. “I don’t know, Maggie, but probably. Angie always loved you. Give her some time, though, okay? I really messed things up with her and there is a lot of hurt there.”
“You’ve changed, though. Does she know that?”
He shook his head even though Maggie couldn’t see him. “I don’t think she really cares. I can be as best of a person as I can be but that will never wipe out what I did to her or Amelia. I abandoned her at a really difficult time for her and I never really made contact again other than a couple birthday cards and child support.”
He clutched at the top of his hair, wishing he was not having this conversation with his little sister.
“Did you want to see her, though?”
Why did everyone keep asking him this question? He’d always wanted to see Amelia and yes, he still loved Angie, but how could he explain why he’d stayed away for so long?
“Yes, Maggie. I did. It’s just — It’s hard to explain. I just felt they’d be better off without me, okay? Angie and Amelia are happy with their life right now and I’d just mess things up.”
Maggie snorted a small laugh. “That’s such a cop out, big brother, but I love you anyhow. Bring me a soda when you come today. Mom says I shouldn’t be drinking it, but she won’t say no if you bring it.”
Ben laughed at how easily his sister could slam him and move on. After they said their goodbyes and he hung up, though, he thought about what she’d said. Maybe it was a cop out to say he’d mess things up for Angie and Amelia if he tried to be a part of their lives, but it was true. They had their own life now. Angie had moved on and Amelia would probably have a real dad soon. That was a good thing.
His chest constricted at the thought of Angie in another man’s arms, as it always did when he thought about that over the years, but at the same time, he felt a strange peace. She deserved happiness after how he’d treated her. If William was her happiness then he was okay with that. William had seemed like a good guy. He simply hoped that maybe she’d let his family get to know Amelia, even if she didn’t want him around.