Faithless - Book cover


Skyler Mason

Chapter 2


My appointment with Stephen Garcia is this afternoon. God, why have I been jittery all day? It’s just our initial meeting. I don’t have to make long-term decisions yet.

Cole walks into my knitting room with his phone in his hand.

“Mom, I’ve been doing some research, and I think you’re going about this all wrong.”

I sigh as I look up from my needles. I should have expected this.

It’s been a week since I told Mark about the divorce, and I told Cole about it as soon as he got settled into his temporary residence in our guest house. I knew he would be completely on my side, and I dreaded it. As much as I love his support, his ire towards his dad is disturbing. It’s relentless and unflinching, and I worry that it’s going to cause long-term emotional damage to both of them. Bitterness is an unproductive emotion. Give it even a little fuel and it can swallow every inch of your heart and make you blind to its destruction.

I can only imagine how Cole would feel if he knew I had started this whole thing. If he knew I was the first to break our marriage vows.

Oh God, I don’t think I could bear it if that bitterness were for me.

“The selfless approach you’re taking is not the way to go with this.” He walks over to the chair across from me and sits down. He reaches out and hands me his phone. “You’re entitled to a lot of money, and you need to push for it. Fight dirty if you have to. Infidelity doesn’t influence divorce settlements in California, but it could influence a judge. Especially when you’re so sweet and soft-spoken.” His jaw clenches. “I bet you almost any judge would hate Dad if they knew how he’s been treating you.”

And how would you feel, Cole, if you knew how deeply I hurt your dad fifteen years ago?

I told myself I kept it from him for his own good—to preserve his idyllic view of our family—but what was my excuse after he caught Mark cheating on me?

I don’t even glance at the screen of his phone. “I’ll have more than I need, and I don’t want to take anything away from your inheritances.”

He looks like he wants to roll his eyes. “You can’t think about that. You need to demand what you’re entitled to. You won’t have any control over the company or Dad’s side of the settlement after your divorce anyway, which is where most of our inheritances will come from. And you know Dad is going to marry some nineteen-year-old and lose a bunch of our money, anyway.”

My throat grows tight at the thought. Oh God, his infidelity has been hard enough to deal with. It was hard even back when I knew it was retaliation. It grew harder as it persisted over the years, and his ire toward me didn’t wane. Each year I grew older, it got harder, because I could no longer fool myself that it was still about me.

No. Eventually his fiery anger turned to cold bitterness, and my infidelity was just an excuse to keep living the way he was. Who wouldn’t prefer the novelty of young, fresh, pretty girls to the forty-year-old woman who you haven’t loved in fifteen years but were forced to share a space with? I don’t have the advantage of youth or novelty.

I can’t let Cole see how it bothers me. He has enough to stress about. I cross my arms over my chest and give him a stern look. “I don’t think you’re being fair to your dad.”

If it wasn’t for the slight clenching of his jaw, I would almost think he didn’t hear me. “What time is your appointment?”

The question startles me. “At three-thirty, but I plan—”

“I’m coming with you.”

My eyes widen. “Cole, I want to involve you kids as little as possible—”

“Well, I don’t want that.” His eyes grow stern. “I want you to do this right.”

The concern in his eyes fills me with warmth. He’s always been protective of me. Even as a little boy, before he had any clue about the depth of our marital problems, he always took my side when Mark and I fought. Years ago, during one of the few times Mark ever raised his voice to me, Cole came over and hit him. “Stop yelling at her,” he shouted in that sweet, high-pitched little voice.

But I can see a pattern that might develop, and I can’t have it. I won’t trade one caretaker for another.

“Honey, you need to let me navigate this divorce on my own.”

His shoulders slump a little. “Mom, I’m just worried about you.”

“I know, but I’ll be fine.”

He shuts his eyes tight. “You’re not ruthless enough. I worry that he’s going to take advantage of you.”

I frown. “You don’t give your dad enough credit.”

I jump in my seat when Cole slams his phone on the coffee table. “He doesn’t deserve any credit. He’s been a shit husband, and I don’t expect any more from him as an ex-husband. I think if he can get away with giving you a shitty settlement, he will.”

I shake my head. “Your dad has been many things over the years, but greedy isn’t one of them.”

Cole’s jaw clenches. “He’s never been put to the test.”

I sigh heavily.

“Will you please let me come with you? I promise I won’t try to take over the meeting. I just want to make sure you stand up for yourself.”

I sigh. “No, honey. I need to do this on my own.”

His eyes fill with something I can’t quite interpret. “I’m proud of you for doing this. I really am.”

I smile faintly as I lift my hand and set it on his forearm. “That’s sweet, but it’s okay to be sad. Divorce is hard. It’s even hard for me when I’m the one who wants it.”

When his mouth tightens and he averts his eyes from mine, I know he’s getting emotional. “Yeah, it’s a little hard, I guess.”

I reach out and squeeze his arm. “Make sure you talk about it. Talk to your friends. Talk to Livvy.”

His mouth tightens. “I can’t right now… She and I have… some issues that we’re sorting out.”

I frown. “Issues? What kind of issues?”

He swallows. “Nothing, she’s just… changing, sort of.”

My eyes pop open wide. “Changing? Changing how?”

His jaw clenches. My God, what is this? That sweet girl has been such a steady presence in Cole’s life. I was worried when he first met her. She’s extremely religious but so beautiful and sweet, most teenage boys would be ready to sacrifice anything to win her over. Cole seemed completely smitten. I thought he might become a bible thumping evangelical just for the opportunity to date her. Luckily, that never happened, and she surprised me with her loyalty to him over the years. She’s been there for him.

Change can’t be good.

“She wants to lose her virginity.”

My eyes pop open. “Oh.”

“Yeah.” His voice is soft.

I stare at him for a moment, trying to gauge this strange reaction to what should be good news. “Honey, why is that a bad thing? Doesn’t that mean she’s calming down a little with her rigid beliefs?”

His nostrils flare. “She wants to lose it by the end of the summer. It’s crazy! She’s not ready.”

I purse my lips, fighting the retort rising to my lips. I keep my voice even. “Why is that for you to decide?”

He rolls his eyes. “She said the exact same thing last night, and it’s because I know her better than anyone. You have no idea how sheltered she is. Beyond anything remotely normal. And it was the perfect storm because she has the temperament of someone who’s ideal for brainwashing. She’s so good-natured, she can’t even imagine that other people don’t have her best interest at heart.” His voice grows hushed. “She’s an angel.”

A chill runs down my spine.

Oh my God.

I’m seeing Mark twenty-five years ago.

“Cole, she’s not an angel. She’s a human being.”

He rolls his eyes again, this time so dramatically his eyelids flutter. “Obviously. But she’s as close to an angel as it gets, and it’s not always a good thing. It’s made so many people take advantage of her. I’m afraid that’s what’s going to happen this summer.”

I nod slowly, my throat growing tight.

I’ve let Mark take advantage of me, because I was pretty ideal for brainwashing too. I thought my sins were great enough to warrant this treatment. I thought I deserved to be punished.

Oh God, I should have ended this all a long time ago.

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