I stood there, staring at the money. I held bills to my face to sniff hundreds of hundred dollar bills. And then the spoiled milk of my crime tainted my high. I told myself I’d put the money to better use than the bank. They say the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil; I would agree. Only I didn’t love money, I needed it. There’s a difference, right? I saw Jenna pulling into the driveway, so I hid the money under the bed. I couldn’t get the smile of accomplishment off my face. It’d been a while since I’d accomplished anything to put a smile on Jenna’s face. Now, she had no choice but to take me back. I mean, she wanted me to mature and find a job and now I had found a job (of sorts). Jenna expected a man out of me, and just because she was more than happy to throw me under the bus doesn’t mean I can stay angry with her.
“Ben?” Jenna stopped, throwing her hand to her heart. “What are you doing here?” Jenna’s ghost-white face and racing heart told me she was up to no good. And knowing Jenna, whatever it was, it wasn’t good.
“Well, hello to you, too,” I said and leaned against the wall with my arms folded. I was sure I looked cool as hell. I mean, I’m out of jail, and I have cash. Who cares that the cash didn’t really belong to me? I mean, the whole finders keepers thing resonated with me well. I’m like an anti-hero. Okay so maybe I’m taking it a little too far, but I am more comfortable in my skin. I guess being a bad boy has its perks. I only wish it included health care, too.
“I’m sorry. That was so rude of me. I’m honestly surprised to see you.”
“Robert confessed. Robert must have asked the cops to make a deal; reduce the first-degree murder charge. Either that or his conscious got the better of him.”
“So, you really had nothing to do with it?” Jenna placed her phone in her back pocket and moved across the room to embrace me. “I’m sorry I ever doubted you, dear.”
“It’s not that you doubted me, it’s you didn’t stick up for me in front of your father. You could have had more faith in me than to think I’d be involved in some robbery or murder.”
“Oh, here we go again.” Jenna crinkled her eyes.
I threw my hands up. “Listen, I would have done the same thing if I were your dad.”
Jenna raised a brow. “Really?”
“He didn’t have a choice, did he?”
“Where’s all this understanding shit coming from?” Jenna lowered her head, then raised it. “You’re right. I should have trusted you.” Jenna didn’t admit to being wrong, at least not often, so I relished in her apology.
I saw another shadow linger between the blinds and the fireplace. “Jill?” I said.
“She needed a place to stay, and since I didn’t think you’d be back home any time soon, I offered her a place to stay.”
“Maybe I should go,” Jill said, glancing at Jenna and then turning her eyes to me.
“Absolutely not,” I said. “This house isn’t perfect, but it’s big enough for you and Leo. Where is Leo?”
“The doctors wanted him to stay another day just to make sure he was okay.”
“Makes sense,” I said.
“Listen, I’m sorry Robert got you caught up in all this. It wasn’t supposed to go down the way it did. No one was supposed to get hurt. Robert told me to keep the gun unloaded, but I’d wanted to go target shooting. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for what happened.”
“I’ve got some exciting news,” I said, placing my hands on my hips.
Jenna crossed her arms and tilted her head as if she felt in her bones that I’d gotten my act together and that it was for good this time. Jenna had been so dismissive of my efforts to change my life; I thought her reaction would be just as dismissive.
“I got a job,” I said, with a self-confidence I hadn’t heard come out of my lips before. It was as if I’d finally got some guts and took charge of something in my life. For the past five years, I’d allowed her father to push me around, not anymore, not ever again.
Jenna leaned forward. “You what?” Jenna said louder than she needed to. “Maybe Dad was wrong about you after all.”
“I even got an advance. Come here.” I waved her to the bedroom and lifted the bed. “This is all mine, well, ours.” I’d never seen so much money spread on a bed or anywhere.
Jill followed close behind Jenna. As we made eye contact, she winked at me; I returned a wink when Jenna’s eyes counted the money before she even touched it. “Good job,” Jill said.
“I knew you could do it,” Jenna said, cupping my cheeks and kissing me. I finally felt like a man like I’d made it our relationship work. “You proved my dad wrong. We’ll have to tell him over dinner.” As she said that, I had flashbacks of her father telling the cops, I killed the hotel clerk. Now, I knew I had to tell him I’d gotten a job at a multinational corporation. Good thinking, right? I mean, he couldn’t call them for verification, because the office could literally be anywhere.
“Now, tell me how you really got the money?” Jenna’s narrow eyes turned to crinkled slits. Jenna didn’t believe for one damn second I’d gotten a job at a fancy corporation. No, Jenna didn’t see me as a winner. I’d almost felt guilty that I hadn’t lied more during our relationship, because no matter how little or much I stretch the truth, the fact remains Jenna would never trust me. I mean, truly trust me.
My stomach tightened. How did Jenna know? I swallowed hard. “I think you’d better sit down.”