Crushed Page 49

As if on cue, my phone beeps with a text message.

Happy Birthday.

Nothing fucking happy about it.

It’s a little past four A.M. here, which means it’s five A.M. East Coast time, and there’s only one person I know who’s regularly up at this hour, willingly.

Mike, Sr.

He remembered my birthday.

And he bothered to do something about it, even though I slammed the door in his face without a backward glance last time I saw him.

I haven’t heard from him since I walked away, and I guess I’ve sort of been figuring I’ve done irreparable damage. It can’t be easy to raise another man’s son as your own. But the way he talked to my mom—the way he talked about me—made me realize it hadn’t been about giving a bastard kid a father figure.

It had been about his own damn pride.

He’d pretty much said so when we’d gone toe-to-toe that last shitty day before I’d left New York.

I figured even though you hadn’t earned the St. Claire name by blood, maybe you’d earn it on merit. But from what I’ve been seeing recently, that’s not the case.

And, yet … he remembered my birthday.

I squeeze my eyes shut, and before I can talk myself out of it, I do the unthinkable.

He picks up on the first ring. “Hello?”

I swallow. His voice is so … familiar. Sharp, a little bit curt, and maybe something else … desperate.

“It’s me,” I say. Needlessly. Stupidly.


That’s me. Michael Edward St. Claire Junior.


“I … thanks for the text message.”

There’s a long pause, as though he’s expecting me to say more. “You’re welcome. Was I the first one?”

I snort. “Don’t pat yourself on the back too hard. Normal people are still asleep.”

“I’m headed out to the gym.”

“Yeah, Da—” I break off. “Yeah, I know.”

I lived with the man for eighteen years, and then every summer after that. I sort of know the routine. Coffee. Gym. Coffee. Work. More work. Sometimes dinner. Work. Repeat.

“How’s Texas?” he asks, breaking yet another weird silence.

Why the hell did I call him?

“It’s … hot. Humid.” So fucking different than home.

“So about like Manhattan in August then.”

“Pretty much. Add a few more spurs and a lot more ranch dressing, and it’s close.”


I’m about how to ask him how he is … how Mom is … how my old life is, when he cuts right to the chase. My dad’s always been like that. No bullshit, even when it makes things awkward.

“Have you done what you intended to do?” he asks.

I throw my arm over my eyes, squeezing them shut into the crook of my elbow. The gruffness in his voice makes me feel like a little kid.

“Michael. Have you met … Patterson?”

“Yeah,” I say, my voice as rough as his. “I’ve met him.”

“Oh. And?”

“I shook his hand. He … he had no idea.”

Dad grunts. “Yeah, well. You do look an awful lot like your mother.”

It’s true. Nobody would ever think Devon is anything other than Tim’s son. Me? I reach; I maybe have Tim Patterson’s mouth. A little bit of the nose.

I could be anyone’s son.

But only one man has treated me as one. Michael St. Claire hasn’t been the best father on the planet. Not by a long shot. He works too much, cheats on my mom, skewers me for my mistakes but barely notices my accomplishments….

But he’s still my dad.

And he remembered my birthday.

Which, right now, when I don’t have a single friend in the world? Is pretty damn important.

Something nags, though.

The unexpected realization that I do have a friend.

I have Chloe.

And some weird little ache inside of me wishes I told her it was my birthday. Wishes I wouldn’t be spending it alone.


“Yeah?” I ask, realizing I zoned out.

“I asked if you are going to tell Tim.”

I run my thumb down my nose, knowing how important this question is. To my dad. To myself.

“I don’t know yet,” I say quietly. “I’d planned on it, but … he seems happy, you know? He’s got a perfect life and I don’t know that I want to destroy it for a mistake he made twenty-four years ago.”

“Nobody’s life is perfect,” he replies.

“Well, they seem a hell of a lot happier than our little family,” I snap.

My dad falls silent. “You’re right,” he says, surprising me. “Your mother and I … we haven’t set a good example. And Michael … there’s something I think you should know.”

I hoist myself into a sitting position on the bed, the lack of sleep hitting me like a ton of bricks. “You’re going to tell me that I shouldn’t be mad at her, because you cheated on her, too. Right?”

“Right …” he says, his voice wary. “And … I’m not proud of it.”

“You shouldn’t be,” I snap.

A year ago, he would have busted my balls for talking to him like that, but today he says nothing. There’s another long pause, and then, “Michael, there’s another thing. A big thing, and I hate like hell I have to tell you on the phone, on your birthday, but your mom says you won’t call her back.”

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