Blue-Eyed Devil Page 28

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"You let me worry about the terms. We'll settle up later."

Realizing my brother was not only going to assume the expenses of my divorce, but also the settlement, I gave him a wretched look, "Gage — "

"It's okay," he said quietly. "You'd do it for me. You're not causing hardship for anyone, sweetheart."

"It's not right for you to pay for my mistakes."

"Haven . . . part of being strong is being able to admit you need help sometimes. You went into this marriage alone, you suffered through it alone, you damn sure don't have to get out of it alone. Let me be your big brother."

His quiet certainty made the ground beneath my feet feel solid. Like someday everything might actually be okay.

"I'm going to pay you back someday."

"Okay."

"I guess the only time I've ever felt more grateful," I told him, "is when you pulled Bootsie out of the ligustrum bush."

I swallowed my pride and called Dad the day after my divorce was final in February. To my profound relief, Nick hadn't appeared at court when the judge signed the decree. Two people had to show up to get married, but only one had to for a divorce. Gage had assured me that Nick would stay far away from court that day. "What'd you do, threaten to break his legs?" I asked.

"I told him if I caught sight of him, his guts would be strung on the courthouse gate within five minutes." I had smiled at that until I realized Gage hadn't been joking.

Gage and Liberty had let my family know that I was back in Houston, but that I wouldn't be ready to see anyone or do any telephone-talking for a while. Naturally Dad, who wanted to be in the center of whatever was going on, took offense at my elusiveness. He told Gage to tell me that any time I was ready to get off my high horse, he would like for me to come see him.

"Did you tell him I was getting a divorce?" I asked Gage.

"Yes. I can't say he was surprised."

"But did you tell him why?" I didn't want anyone to know about what had occurred between Nick and me. Maybe in time I would tell Jack or Joe, but for now I needed it to be kept private. I didn't want to be seen as weak or helpless, a victim, ever again. Most of all I didn't want to be pitied.

"No," Gage said, his tone reassuring. "I just told Dad it didn't work out — and if he wanted any kind of relationship with you at all, to keep his mouth shut about it."

So I finally called Dad, my sweaty hands gripping the phone. "Hey Dad." I tried to sound casual. "Been a while since I talked to you. Just thought I'd check in."

"Haven." The sound of his gravelly voice was familiar and comforting. "You took your sweet time. What have you been doing?"

"Getting a divorce."

"I heard about that."

"Yeah, well . . . it's all over between me and Nick." Since my father couldn't see me, I wrinkled up my face as if I'd chomped on bitter dandelion greens as I forced myself to admit, "It was a mistake."

"There are times I take no pleasure in being right."

"Like hell," I said, and was rewarded by his scratchy chuckle.

"If you really got rid of him," Dad said, "I'll call my lawyer this afternoon and have you put back in the will."

"Oh, good. That's why I called."

It took him a moment to realize I was being sarcastic.

"Dad," I said, "you're not going to hold that will over my head the rest of my life. Thanks to you, I've gotten a great education, and there's no reason I can't hold down a job. So don't bother calling the lawyer I don't want to be in the will."

"You'll be in the will if I say so," Dad retorted, and I had to laugh.

"Whatever. The real reason I'm calling is to say I'd like to see you.

It's been way too long since I've had a good argument with someone."

"Fine," he said. "Come on over."

And with that, our relationship was back on track, as flawed and frustrating as it had ever been. But I had boundaries now, I reminded myself, and no one was going to cross them. I would be a fortress of one.

I was a new person in the same world, which was a lot more difficult than being the same person in a new world. People thought they knew me but they didn't. With the exception of Todd, my old friends were no longer relevant to the new version of me. So I turned to my brothers for support, and I discovered that adulthood had done nice things for their personalities.

Joe, a commercial photographer, made a point of telling me that he had a big house and there was plenty of room if I wanted to stay with him. He said he was gone a lot of the time, and we wouldn't infringe on each other's privacy. I told him how much I appreciated the offer, but I needed my own place. Still, it wouldn't have been bad at all, living with him. Joe was an easygoing guy. I never heard him complain about anything. He took life as it came, which was a rare quality in the Travis family.

But the real surprise was Jack, the brother I'd never gotten along with — the one who'd given me a bad haircut when I was three, and scared the wits out of me with bugs and garden snakes. The adult Jack turned out to be an unexpected ally. A friend. In his company I could fully relax, the haunted, anxious feeling burning away like water drops on a smoking griddle.

Maybe it was because Jack was so straightforward. He claimed to be the least complex person the Travis family, and that was probably true. Jack was a hunter, comfortable with his status as a predatory omnivore. He was also an environmentalist and saw no conflict in that. Any hunter, he said, had better do his best to protect nature since he spent so much time out in it.

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