“What? He can’t do that. There’s no way everything in your apartment was purchased by him. You need an attorney, Ave. You can’t just let him get away with this.”
“Yeah, well … attorneys cost money too.”
“We’ll pay for—”
“No, Syd. I don’t want you fighting this battle for me. Hell, I don’t even want the battle. Whatever … it’s just stuff.”
Sydney takes the serving tray from me and rinses it. “Um … who are you? It’s just stuff?”
“Yeah, I don’t want it. I don’t need it. I don’t need …” I close my eyes, rolling my lips between my teeth.
“Dad said we’re going to the beach.” Ocean and Deedy come in the back door.
“Yes, sweetie pie. We are.” Sydney drops the towel on the counter and hugs her daughter.
“Is Aunt Avery coming?”
I pin a stiff smile onto my face and turn around. “Actually, I’m going to stay here with Papa and the De—” I clear my throat. “Deedy. I’ll take you to the beach next week. Just the two of us for girl time. Does that sound okay?”
Ocean rubs her red eyes and nods. “Okay. I guess …”
“Let’s go get changed.” Sydney runs a loving hand through Ocean’s long, dark hair and guides her toward the stairs.
“I’m going to have a cup of tea. Can I get you one?” Deedy asks, filling the electric tea kettle.
I shake my head and return to the sink filled with dishes. “Where’s my dad?”
“He said he had a quick errand to run, but he had this mischievous look in his eyes, so I’m not sure what he has up his sleeve.” She takes over Sydney’s job and dries the dishes while waiting for her water to heat up. “I talked to Jake last night.”
“He seemed really distressed.”
The Deedy doesn’t understand that “that’s nice” is code for I don’t want to talk about Jake.
“I’d gathered something might be going on between you two … Sydney leaked that much to your dad and me. But after talking with Jake, I now realize it was something quite serious. I’m sorry, Avery. You must be emotionally exhausted. If you want to talk about it.”
“What’s there to talk about? Jake makes everyone think he’s amazing, while I’m just the whore he screwed on a road trip. Does that about sum it up?” I scrub the shit out of the glass pitcher.
“You’re going to etch the surface.” Deedy takes the abrasive scrubber and the pitcher from my hands. Then she rinses it off. “Coffee more your taste?” She holds up the half-full coffee pot.
Resting my hands on the edge of the sink, I close my eyes and nod once.
“Please, have a seat … just for a few minutes. The dishes can wait.”
On a defeated sigh, I surrender, taking a seat at the kitchen table. Deedy sets a red mug of coffee in front of me and sits across from me with her hot tea.
“I met Gavin in college.”
I sip my coffee and glance over at her when she doesn’t elaborate. “Gavin?”
She shakes her head, staring at the tea bag as she bobs it in the hot water. “Jake didn’t share much about himself. Did he?”
My shoulders lift a fraction as my lips twist. I hate that Deedy knows things about Jake that I don’t know. It makes me feel like a fool who spread her legs for him. I fell in love with a man I don’t really know. And he fell in love with the version of me he created. Now our bubble no longer exists, and we are nothing.
“He’s a vegan chef who owns two restaurants. He was a fighter or boxer … or something. I met his dad and Francine. She’s basically me—in his mind. That led to a fight and a confession. His mother committed suicide after losing a battle with depression. She lost a baby, so he’s an only child.” I glance up from my coffee mug. “But I don’t know about anyone named Gavin. And I don’t even know how you two met.”
Deedy removes her tea bag, squeezing the excess water out before setting it on a napkin. “Gavin was my husband.”
I nod slowly.
“And Jake’s uncle.”
My eyes widen, lips parted, words muted as my brain pieces things together. Jake’s uncle. That means Deedy is Jake’s aunt. She’s going to marry my dad. That will make me … Jake’s cousin? No, that’s not right. But it feels like there’s a family tie that makes what we’ve done even more wrong.
“You have a disgusted look on your face. Is it the coffee?”
“No. It’s just that makes Jake …”
“Gavin was his father’s younger brother—a lot younger and nothing like his father. Jake and Gavin were more like cousins or brothers than uncle and nephew. After Jake’s mom died, he lived with Gavin because—”
“He didn’t want to live with his father. He told me that.”
“Yes. Gavin is the one who helped channel Jake’s anger into a better outlet. Fighting. He trained him. Jake was like another brother to me. I never thought of him as a nephew after Gavin and I got married.” She shrugs and gives me a soft smile. “Jake’s my family. He always will be family.”
“Well, clearly he thinks a lot of you because I can’t tell you how many times his mumbled mantra ‘do it for Deedy’ kept him from literally killing me on our trip.”
Deedy grunts a laugh. “Jake feels indebted to me. He feels guilty … responsible for Gavin’s death.”
“Why?” My head cocks to the side a bit.
Deedy takes a slow breath. Then she bites her bottom lip, eyes focused on the blank table space between us.
“They went to a fight to watch a mutual friend. I stayed home to pack for a mission trip we were supposed to take the following day.” Her gaze meets mine. Time hasn’t erased the pain. It’s red in her eyes, very much still alive.
“After the fight, there was a dispute. Some guy who Jake fought years earlier wasn’t happy to see him again. He was one of Jake’s opponents who left on a stretcher.” Deedy blows out another breath and returns her gaze to the table and three years earlier.
“Gavin started to argue with the guy. Jake tried to keep things from getting out of hand, so he pushed Gavin back to put himself between them. Gavin tripped on something and fell backward. He hit his head on a concrete ledge of the next level of seating.”
Deedy shakes her head slowly. “No cut. No bump. He didn’t lose consciousness. Got up on his own and dusted himself off like it was no big deal. Seemingly unscathed. Jake suggested he get checked out by a doctor, but Gavin said he’d taken much harder hits to his head when he was a fighter.”
She’s The Deedy. Stealer of my father. Haunter of my Jake fantasies. Yet, I can’t keep my hand from reaching for hers, giving it a gentle squeeze.
Deedy smiles at our hands. “He came home. Showered. I looked at his head, but it looked fine. He was fine. Fine …” Her face contorts into a grimace. “Until he wasn’t. He got this severe headache and felt dizzy. His words were confusing. I called Jake and told him I was going to take Gavin to the hospital. He told me to call 9-1-1.” Her words come out shaky. She clears her throat. “He died later that night. It was an epidural hematoma caused by blunt impact.”
I don’t speak or even move. What’s there to say?
“So…” Deedy pulls her hand from mine and wraps it around her cup of tea “…there you have it. Jake’s endured a wide array of trauma in his life. He carries guilt like an inoperable tumor attached to his conscience. Working with food. Caring for the environment. These things have helped him deal with his suppressed emotions. But he’s not without triggers.”
I laugh through the pain. “I’m clearly a trigger for more than one of his traumatic moments in life. But … that’s over. Doesn’t matter now. However, I’m truly sorry for your loss.”
“Gavin was my first love. I believe Tommy is my last love.”
Tommy. I grin, but I fear it might look like a cringe.
“Sorry. Your dad. Tom? Thomas? What works for you? I don’t like it when you’re uncomfortable with our relationship. I want us to be friends, not just family by marriage.”
The Deedy and I forging a friendship? I’m not sure about this, but it feels like the odds are in her favor now that I know for sure there was nothing sexual between her and Jake.
“He’s going to be your husband.” I smile. “Call him whatever you want to call him. I’ve just never heard anyone call him Tommy before, but maybe that makes it even more fitting for you to call him that. I think had my mom called him that, it would feel wrong in a bad way, not just in an unfamiliar way. Does that make sense?”
This is awkward. I had my mind set on hating Deedy for no particular reason. Immature? Sure. But I’ve got my own baggage. “So …” I stand before the silence gets too weird. “Tell me about the wedding.” I busy myself with the dishes again.
“We’re out of here. Sure you don’t want to come?” Sydney peeks her head into the kitchen.