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KEPT_ A Second Chance Fairy Tale

By:A.C. Bextor

KEPT_ A Second Chance Fairy Tale - A.C. Bextor



Michael

“WHY CAN’T YOU JUST BE honest with me for once, if not with yourself? It’s finally over now, Mike. You can tell me. Did you sleep with her?”

My wife asked the million-dollar question in reference to Hillary, a pretty, twenty-something paralegal who’d been working in my office at the time. She accused me of this as we stood outside our son’s bedroom door, arguing after I had gotten home late from the office yet again.

“Fuck no, Victoria. I’m not going over this shit with you again,” I hissed in a whisper to avoid a scene playing out within earshot of my son.

I was so angry and so tired, not only from fighting with her, but from pulling down another eighty-hour work week to ensure my family wanted for nothing.

Emitting a tight, feminine growl, she sneered, “Look at you. You’re so good at lying, it’s become second nature.”

That night was merely one of many when Victoria had accused me of cheating.

The truth was her accusations never held any merit.

Yes, I’d thought about other women, and I knew Hillary would’ve made herself available. But I wasn’t having an affair, emotional or otherwise, with Hillary or anyone else.

Victoria and I both loved our family, but the degree of neglect we’d subjected each other to during the last few years of our marriage had been weighing heavily on both of us. And our differences were straining the relationship.

“We’re leaving in the morning, Mike. I can’t do this anymore. Not to myself or to him,” she stated pointedly, as she had so many times before. She was so sure our life together was over and, in all honesty, I envied her conviction. “There’s nothing more to talk about.”

“You’ve given up,” I quietly stated the obvious. I hadn’t, though. I never would’ve stopped trying.

“Yes,” she whispered with slight relief. “I have. We don’t know each other anymore.”

Her statement wasn’t a lie. We didn’t know each other, but I didn’t think we did even before we brought our son into this world. A part of me still loved her because she was his mother, but that was where my feelings ended. There was no understanding, no passion or desire between us. I found no comfort or care in her company.

The responsibilities and demands of life had changed us both.

“You’re not taking him with you,” I advised her calmly.

My son was the greatest accomplishment of my life. He was the one good thing to come from our marriage, and we both cared about him deeply and above all else.

Caleb was smart, witty, and mature for his age. The family life he’d been exposed to because of us forced him to grow up quickly. Oftentimes, it was only because of him that we didn’t emotionally torture each other further.

Raising her hands in the air, motioning to the large house we had made a life in, she answered, “He’s not staying here.”

We’d been living in the same house we brought our son into after he was born. It was the same home where, three years prior, we promised each other we’d try harder, swearing we’d really attempt to make it work.

None of our promises ever held true.

“He’s not just your son, Victoria. He’s mine, too,” I shot back.

Her eyes rolled and her lips pursed. She didn’t believe I was serious about keeping him with me, but I was. Miserable or not, I would’ve found a way to keep our family together.

I met Victoria during the grand opening of an art museum downtown. She was an interior designer trapped inside a model’s body. As are most models, Victoria was beautiful – exquisite even. She lacked self-confidence, though. And because her part-time modeling gigs fed her the constant reassurance she desperately needed, she never took advantage of or professionally applied her degree in design.

A few seconds passed and her annoyance slid into an expression of pain. “Like I was yours? Like I used to be?” she asked quietly. “Mike, you’ve been so worried about growing your firm, you haven’t taken the time to look around. We haven’t been together as a real family in over a year,” she pleaded with frustration, just as she had so many times before. “You don’t look at me anymore. You see through me. He doesn’t. He said he loves me, and I believe him.”

There it was, the moment of truth.

Her words hit like ice, causing the blood in my veins to run cold. I knew she’d been seeing someone else. I felt the final change in our relationship a year before. But love? I didn’t think their affair had gone that far.

“You’re so sure about this that you’d tear apart the only family Caleb’s ever known?”

She didn’t hesitate to answer. And it was then I knew, without hesitation, that I’d already lost her. “Yes, Michael. Caleb can’t be like you. I won’t let that happen.”

“Like me?” I asked, not wanting to know, but for whatever reason needing to hear how she truly felt.

“Don’t you see?” she pleaded. “I don’t want him growing up having to always be in control. To be living alone one day as a cold, unforgiving shell of a man.”

Over our last year, I’d been all those things to her, always trying to stave off the realization that I wasn’t or wouldn’t ever be enough. Victoria demanded my time, my energy. But more than anything, she demanded my love. I was too busy. I pushed her away, intent on making something of myself for no other reason than I just always wanted to be better, to do more, to succeed.

It was twisted but, looking back, it was what I believed. Hearing Victoria vocalize her worry that my son would turn out the same sickened me. I never wanted that.

“We’ll talk in the morning,” I suggested once I turned away and opened the door to Caleb’s room. I found him nestled in his bed, sleeping in what I hoped were peaceful dreams.

Her hand reached out and pulled on my arm to stop me. I brought my attention back to her. “He’s resting. Please, don’t wake him.”

I did as she asked. Rather than walk in to kiss my son goodnight, I made my way past her and down the hall to the spare room I’d taken residence in for the last three months of our marriage.

At the time, I didn’t know that moment would be my only chance. I missed the last opportunity to see my son alive. To feel his warm skin under the palm of my hand, to listen with appreciation and thanks to his calm, steady breaths as he slept in the only house he’d ever called a home. I wasted the chance because of who I was so determined to push myself to be.

The next day, as I sat behind my desk in a corner office located in a downtown high-rise building, wishing to be someone more than I already was, my four-year-old son died tragically without ever hearing me tell him I loved him again.





Michael

“OH, WELL, GOOD. YOU’RE STILL here,” I hear Lillie comment as she enters my office. “I figured you’d already left for the evening.”

It’s no shock I’m here at this hour and Lillie, the one woman in my life who knows me better than my own mother, shouldn’t be surprised. I’m usually the first to arrive and the last to leave, unlike my partner Corbin.

I met Corbin Mercer during our first year at law school. We were both civil law majors. Once we graduated, we stayed in touch, as some people do. After a few years of trying to adapt to a life working for others who didn’t appreciate all we had to offer, we looked for another opportunity and decided to open our own firm, which we named Mercer Law.

There’s a reason I’m not listed as an equally named partner. There are vast personality differences between Corbin and myself. He doesn’t mind wining and dining our clients, remembering their names and faces, and celebrating their personal successes. He’s also not a private person.

However, I am.

I don’t like conversing with those I don’t personally know, rubbing elbows over drinks, or attempting to understand their ‘feelings’. I want no part of it. I’m steadfast and mechanical and, thus far, I see no reason to change.

“I’m still here, Lillie.” I sigh, stating the obvious while ignoring what I already know are her pursed lips at my reticent reaction. I don’t have to look up to note her disappointment, so I continue to focus on what I was doing before she stopped in.

Lillie Miles is a fifty-nine-year-old grandmother of three. She’s been my secretary—or personal assistant, as she prefers to be called—for the last eight years. Lillie is the one person in my life I allow to speak to me as she does – blunt, direct, and blatantly bossy. She’s grossly overpaid, but I’ve learned to consent to her overstated salary since she keeps every facet of my life seamlessly in order.

Unfortunately, Lillie’s also planning an early retirement. Her going-away party, which of course she’s planning herself, is scheduled two weeks from today.

“I’ve got a few things that need your immediate attention, if you have a minute.”

“I have exactly three for you, so make them count,” I reply, breaking my concentration on the contact and scheduling calendar program on my laptop. It’s one she made and it’s complicated, so I have no fucking idea how to use it.

“What do you need?” I prod while she stares at me with her well-practiced look of disapproval.

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