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Family Rules: A Breaking the Rules Novel by Jacki James (1)



What an absolutely shitty day, I thought as I walked through the door to my apartment. Man, it was good to be home. A beer, Chinese takeout from my favorite restaurant, and a movie sounded like a great way to end a crappy day.

I like my job, I reminded myself. I had always loved numbers. Math was my safe place. It wasn’t subjective. It was either right or it was wrong and no one could tell you your answer wasn’t valid just because they didn’t like it. If you were wrong, you could trace the steps, find the mistake, and fix it. So yeah, being an accountant came naturally to me. No, it wasn’t the job that was the problem; it was the place I didn’t like.

The simple fact was our boss liked to play favorites, and I just wasn’t one of them. I wasn’t sure what I’d done to get on the man’s bad side, but for some reason, he had never liked me. The rest of the staff was gossipy and, honestly, a little bit bitchy. I just really didn’t like the place. Sadly, in this little town, there just weren’t many other options. But this is where my family was and that was what mattered, so here is where I stayed. I would make it work somehow.

I just need to find a way to get on Chet’s good side, I thought as I clicked through the channels looking for a movie to watch. “There we go,” I said. I was a big superhero nerd and especially a big Marvel fan so some Robert Downey, Jr. was just what I needed to de-stress after my day from hell.

I was just about to dig into my Chinese food when my phone rang. I looked at the caller ID. It was my ex-wife, Suzie. Eight p.m. on a weeknight was an odd time for her to call so my first thought was of my daughter Emma, and I answered right away.

“What’s up, Suzie; is Emma okay?” I asked immediately. That little girl was the most important person in the world to me. She had me pretty much wrapped around her little finger, and she knew it. I don’t know what I would do without her.

“Hey, Mark. Yeah, she’s fine. I just wanted to talk to you about something if you have time.”

“Sure, Suzie, go ahead. I’m just eating,” I replied.

“No, in person. I wanted to tell you this face to face.” She sounded really worried, and that wasn’t like her.

“Okay, when do you want to meet? I can do lunch tomorrow if you want.”

“Well, actually, I’m here now so if you’d just open the door,” she said unsurely.

I headed for the front door, wondering what could have her so freaked out that she would come over here like this. We had been best friends for years before we married, but at this point, I wasn’t exactly the first person I thought she would turn to if something was wrong. I mean we didn’t hate each other but we weren’t exactly BFFs anymore either. Were she and her husband, Tom, having problems? Was she sick? She said Emma was okay, but I wondered what it could be.

I opened the door and let her in. She looked really nervous. Like she didn’t want to say what she was here to say. Crap, this wasn’t going to be good. It reminded me of when she told me about Tom to begin with. We had been married just short of two years when she admitted she was in love with someone else. Someone who loved her in the way she needed to be loved. Something that I apparently didn’t do.

“So, can I get you something to drink?” I asked her, hoping to delay what was coming.

“No, I’m good. I just want to say this and get it over with.” She sat down on the couch, took a deep breath, and braced herself. “Mark, Tom has been offered a promotion. A good promotion. But it’s in Austin, and we’re moving. We’ll be leaving in around a month. Sooner if possible. It’ll be great. Better schools for Emma, more culture...”

“Whoa. Just let me stop you right there. You think you are taking Emma and moving hours away from me? What the fuck, Suzanne! You can’t take my daughter away from me. You have no fucking right. None. We share custody. You can’t just pick up and fucking leave.”

“Dammit, Mark! I knew you’d react this way. I knew you wouldn’t even listen to me before you got upset.”

“Damn right, I’m upset. None of this is my doing. We would still be a married couple raising our daughter together instead of fighting about where she’ll live if you hadn’t turned your back on our marriage,” I yelled.

“I can’t believe you are still holding that against me. It has been over a year, Mark. Seriously, it isn’t like you were happy either. It’s not like you actually loved me,” she yelled back.

“It’s not about that.” That old feeling of loss and failure washed over me, taking some of my anger with it.

“Well, then what is it about.”

I sighed and sat down on the couch next to her.

“This isn’t what I wanted for Emma. I wanted her to have a normal family. A happy childhood. Not two parents who live hours away from each other. Shit, I didn’t even want her to have parents who lived in separate houses.”

“Well you should have thought of that before,” she shot back.

“Before what? I’m not the one who left,” I said. “I was perfectly happy to stay married and raise Emma as a family.”

It seemed like we’d had this same argument a hundred times. I knew I needed to let it go, but it was so hard. It hurt that I’d failed to keep my family together. It hurt that she’d felt the need to cheat. It hurt that I hadn’t been enough. It hurt that I’d lost my best friend. Shit, it just plain hurt. I was tired of rehashing it, but I didn’t know how to stop.

I knew she was just as tired of fighting as I was. She looked at me and sighed. I could tell she was thinking about what to say next. Like there was something she wanted to say but wasn’t sure if she should. Not that it mattered what she said. She wasn’t taking Emma away from me.

As I waited for her to speak, I watched her. I could tell that she was arguing with herself. Then she straightened her shoulders as she made up her mind. I knew she had decided just to go ahead and say what she was thinking.

“You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you? Well, you know what, Mark, that’s fine. I’m tired of having the same fight with you over and over while we ignore the elephant in the room. So here goes. You should’ve thought of that before you married me when we both know you were never in love with me.”

“Hold on a minute. I did love you. I still love you, Suzie. You know that.”

“I didn’t say you didn’t love me. I said you weren’t in love with me.” Suzie sighed. “So yes, Mark, I know you have always loved me, but what I meant is you love me like a best friend loves a best friend or like a brother loves his sister. You never loved me like a husband loves his wife. You know it’s true. I was never what you wanted.”

She braced herself as she prepared to say what she had been leading up to. “What you wanted was a husband, not a wife. Come on, just be honest and admit that you are gay.”

“I’m not… What are you talking about?” I stammered as I jumped up off the couch and began pacing around the room, trying to catch my breath.

“Gay, Mark, or at least bi. Although I’m leaning toward just plain gay. I’m talking about the fact that you prefer men. You need to stop pretending to be someone you aren’t. You’re making yourself miserable and you need to stop.”

I stopped pacing and looked at her. I’m not sure how we’d gone from them taking Emma to Austin to my deepest held secret, but she seemed to be truly worried about me. And, for some reason, I just didn’t have it in me to keep denying it. It might have been because, until our ugly break up, she had always been my best friend and knew me better than anyone else. Or maybe it was because she was right, and I was just plain tired of trying to be someone I wasn’t. No matter the reason, I knew it was time.

“How long have you known?” I asked quietly as I sank down on the couch.

“I mean I didn’t know for sure, but I have been thinking it was the case ever since Emma’s second birthday party. I don’t know if you remember Tom’s cousin Mitch or not, but he was there. After the party was over, he asked Tom how he felt about Emma’s dad being gay. It just all kinda clicked for me then, and everything seemed to make sense.”

“Is that why you want to take Emma away? Because Tom doesn’t want a “gay” guy around his family?” I asked weakly.

“No, Mark. God No!” Suzie gasped as she reached over and took my hands. “We don’t want to take her away. You’re an awesome dad. We both think so.”

“But you said you were moving to Austin. I don’t understand.”

“We are. We want you to come with us. Seriously Mark, what is there for you here? It’s a tiny little backwards town. You could get a job in Austin easy, maybe even a job you liked. It’s only a few hours away from your parents, and Rachel is there. You know she would love to have her big brother closer. Plus, she would love to have Emma there so she can spoil her rotten. And there are other things for you there too you know. You can start fresh. Maybe meet a nice guy. Austin is a very gay friendly town.”

“Slow down there a minute,” I said, shaking my head. “I mean Austin does have its benefits, but I don’t know about the umm other thing.” I felt myself blush. “I have never even said the words ‘I am gay’ out loud before.”

Suzie smiled and bumped my shoulder. “Well, my friend, guess what. You just did.”