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“How’d the meeting go?”
Maxwell eased his black sedan onto Main Street, heading toward his house two miles outside of town. He turned the music down on the radio, a song from the local Christian radio station fading into the background.
Ben winced as he tried to move his foot. “It went okay.
He hated the idea of his dad driving him to and from an AA meeting, or even knowing about his past. Having to tell his dad he’d lost his job at a high profile law firm three years ago had been beyond difficult, but telling him it was because he’d lost a case for the firm because he’d come into many times with a hangover had been like a kick to the gut.
“Okay, I guess, but it was weird. Judi was there, for one, and then Jerry Spencer verbally attacked her because she’s working at a bar and grill, which he seems to think is too much of a temptation for someone who is trying to kick alcohol.”
Maxwell shrugged a shoulder. “Well, it probably is, but what business is it of his?”
“Yeah, I don’t know.” Ben stretched back in the seat and rubbed his forehead, wishing the ache would go away. “I got the impression he’s got something against Judi, but I don’t know what. Or maybe it has nothing to do with her at all. Maybe she was just an innocent bystander to his explosion. He seemed pretty ticked off that he had to be there at all.”
Max grimaced. “He probably is. Remember you weren’t too happy about those meetings either. He’s probably sick of being in court for DUIs too but it’s his own fault. How did Judi take it?”
“She snapped back at him. They exchanged words and then the woman leading the group told Jerry to leave.”
Maxwell blew out a breath. “Whoo boy. Think he’d hurt Judi in any way?”
Ben’s brow furrowed. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. I tried to stop her after the meeting and ask her if she was okay, but she jumped into her car and took off.” He shrugged then spoke through a yawn. “Anyhow, I’ve got other things to think about right now. Cindy called me right before I left for the meeting. She’s going to need some time off work, and she isn’t sure how long. Rick’s been diagnosed with cancer. The prognosis is good but he’s going to need some radiation treatments and she wants to be home to take care of him.”
“Can’t blame her. What are you going to do?”
“Not sure yet. Thankfully she said his first treatment isn’t for another couple of weeks. I may just have to push through until she can come back. That’s not enough time to train someone and it would be hard to find a temp around here.”
“What about Judi?”
Ben made a face. “What about Judi?”
“Maybe she could fill in,” Maxwell responded. “You said that job at Lonny’s might not be right for her.”
“Dad, first of all I didn’t say that. Jerry did. Second of all no. Just no. Judi’s — well, she’s not qualified. She’s Judi and Judi’s always been, to put it bluntly, a mess. I mean, yeah, I feel kind of bad for Judi, but there is no way I want her filling in as my secretary.”
Maxwell glanced at his son. “Even people who are considered a mess deserve a chance, Ben.”
Ben wasn’t sure if his dad was taking a jab at him or not, but he chose to believe he wasn’t aware of how his comment had come off.
“I know that Dad, and I believe that too, you know that. That’s why I was there with Floyd tonight, but Judi doesn’t know how to be a secretary at a law office.”
“How do you know?”
“All she has to do is answer phones, file some paperwork, and take some notes. Anyone could handle at least that much. She couldn’t replace Cindy and all her law background, no, but she could do the basics.
Ben shook his head. “No. Just — No. I’ll ask around. I’m sure some other lawyers will have suggestions.”
Maxwell shrugged and nodded. “I understand, but it’s an option at least. Maybe the last option, but also maybe one worth considering.”
Ben focused his attention on the scene outside his window — the town of Spencer fading into trees and fields which he could have seen better if it hadn’t been so dark. His dad had purchased property about a mile outside of town when Ben was five or six. The two story home, set back off the road in the midst of grove of birch trees was considered a mansion by some in the area but for Maxwell and Emily it has simply been a home that was able to fit their family of six. Maxwell’s job as a small town attorney representing anyone and everyone who needed his help had proven to be more lucrative than the couple had imagined, but it was the inheritance from Maxwell’s father that had helped them build the home.
After Maxwell was elected district attorney the first time, when Ben was 16, a wall with a gate was erected around the property to provide privacy and protection. It was the same style gate Maxwell’s father, Maxwell Sr. had had installed at his home after serving as county judge for 40-years.
“No telling when some loony I sentenced might come to make me pay for the lengthy sentence they received due to their own incompetence,” Maxwell Sr. had said about the installation of a fence and gate around his house in town.
He’d died while Ben was away at law school and there wasn’t a day that went by that Ben didn’t miss him. At the same time, he was glad his grandfather hadn’t witnessed his spectacular personal and professional face plant right before and even after passing the bar.
Sure, Ben had his own law firm, something he’d always wanted, and his grandfather had wanted for him, but it wasn’t in a large city like Ben had hoped it would be. Still, it was something instead of the nothing he’d thought he’d be left with when he lost that job as a paralegal three years ago. He’d planned for that job to be temporary anyhow.
As soon as he passed the bar, he was going to be out of there and working on his own in the center of Philadelphia or New York City. Somewhere with big, rich clients. It was a shame an addiction he’d acquired to try to silence all the doubting voices in his head had ended his career at the firm before he’d had a chance to quit.
He wanted to say losing that paralegal job wasn’t a big loss, but really, on a career level, it had been. He’d been the assistant to one of the most sought-after defense lawyers in Philadelphia. The fact he’d blown it within the first nine months after so much promise only solidified for him the fact he would never be as successful as his dad, in career or in life overall.
“Your mom says you got a card from the Phillipis. Anything important?”
His dad’s question broke into his thoughts and once again he found himself wishing his father didn’t sometimes use his courtroom tone in every conversation. Being direct and to the point was something Maxwell Oliver was a master at in the courtroom and, sadly, that direct manner often spilled over into interactions with his family.
No sugar coating or easing into a conversation for him.
“Anything unimportant then?”
Ben sighed and pushed a hand through his hair. Exhaustion tugged at his eyelids, pain shooting from the front to the back of his head. He’d wanted to argue when the doctor had said over the phone it could be another three weeks before the concussion was better, but now he was beginning to believe the man.
“It was a card.” Ben remained silent for a few moments but knew his dad wouldn’t stop asking questions. “An invitation to a party that Angie already told me she doesn’t want me to attend.”
His dad turned the car into the driveway and reached up to the visor, pushing a button there to open the front gate. “Angie called you?”
“She left me a voicemail. I got it the day of the accident.”
The gate clanked closed behind them after Maxwell drove through the opening. Pulling toward the four car garage, Maxwell pushed another button on the visor and the garage door rose slowly.
“She’s what, four this year?”
Ben’s chest tightened. This conversation needed to end. “Yeah.”
Maxwell turned the car off, but kept his hands on the steering wheel as the garage door closed behind them. “You know I haven’t wanted to get into your and Angie’s business, but it would be nice to meet my granddaughter someday.”
Ben reached for the car door, desperate to get inside and lay down. The pain in the ankle and head had given up battling for first place and had settled on a tie. “Not my decision, Dad. Angie doesn’t want me to be a part of her life.”
“Can you blame her?”
Ben climbed out of the car and slammed the door behind him. Metal against metal reverberated throughout the garage.
I’m not a hostile witness, Dad, back off. It was what he wanted to say, but he was too tired, too dizzy, and in way too much pain to push this conversation into a full-blown argument.
“My head is killing me,” he said instead as Maxwell stepped out of the passenger side. “Can we talk about this more tomorrow? I don’t mean to be rude, but I didn’t take the painkiller before I left for the meeting and I’m regretting it now.”
Maxwell closed the door and walked around to Ben’s side. “Of course, we can. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought this up while you’re still recovering.” He placed a hand on Ben’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “I hope you can forgive me.”
Good grief, his dad even apologized better than he ever could.
“If you help me up to Luke’s room and put a glass of water on the bedside table for me, I definitely can.”
Maxwell’s laugh was deep and sincere. “I can absolutely do that. Come on, kid, let’s get you some rest. You’ve had a rough week.”
Once he was in bed with the lights off twenty minutes later, Ben squeezed his eyes shut against the pain, waiting for the pills to kick in. Once they did, images of a blond-haired little girl swam in and out of images of a beautiful blond woman who’d once looked at him with love but now looked at him with disgust and disappointment. By the time darkness overtook him he’d broken out in a sweat and thrashed enough to wrap the sheets around him like a straight jacket. In the morning he woke up trying to untangle himself from the covers while his mind tried to untangle the nightmares that had plagued him all night.