“Mr. Jamison, I'd like to talk to you about your farm, if that’s all right?” He lifts his briefcase and taps it with his knuckles. “I think I've got something that might make your day.”
“Please, call me Ryder. Mr. Jamison was my father.” Taking a step out of the way, I invite him in. “We can talk in my office.”
“Mom?” My voice is rattling in the back of my throat as I try to hold it together. I'm on my way to the airport, but I'm not handling it very well. I can't stop crying, and breathing is a struggle.
Her voice comes through the speakers in the car, and I hear the same flat tone as usual. “Jenna, where are you? Are you on your way home?”
“Yes,” I say, the words coming out cracked and broken. “Have you talked to Troy? Did he tell you?”
“Tell me what?” she asks. She's fumbling with something, I can tell. She isn't paying attention at all.
“He's making me come back, he threatened to cut me off. He didn't tell you anything? Nothing at all?”
“Oh, don't worry about him. It's probably just one of his moods.” Brushing away my frantic question, she says, “You know how he works.”
There's a pop and fizz in the background. She's drinking. Again. I'm not sure if she drinks to drown out life, or if it's just because she has nothing else to do. I don't remember the last time I've seen her without a glass in her hand.
“Mom, please, I'm trying to talk to you. Can't you listen for once?”
I can hear her take a sip of her drink. She exhales into the phone and lets out a soft sigh. “Oh, Jenna, stop being dramatic. You know how Troy gets when he wants something. This is no different.”
“He said would stop paying for my schooling, that he'd disown me completely.”
“Well, what do you want me to say? I can't make choices for him, Jenna. You know that.” She smacks her lips, swallowing hard. “So, should I be expecting you home soon or not? I've got a hair appointment at six, so I'm not going to sit around and wait. I'll send the car to the airport. Just tell me what time.”
“Forget it,” I say, hanging up on her.
My mother's been poisoned by this world.
She's turned into a person I don't recognize anymore. She isn't my mother. She's some weird extension of Troy, and I don't like it. A little compassion, maybe a little emotion or anger over how he's treating her daughter would be nice.
Tears are pouring from my eyes. I can't see the road, so I pull over into the breakdown lane and park the car. Holding the steering wheel, I lay my head on it as I cry uncontrollably.
What the hell am I doing? What is going on with me?
Sitting up, I take a deep breath, running my hands over my head and pulling my hair back tight against my scalp.
I'll call Meg. She'll listen.
Scrolling through my phone, I open my messages and see the pictures and texts from my friends. Flipping through image after image, I'm met with fake smiles, fake laughs, fake everything.
None of these people are real. Most of my friends aren't really my friends at all. They're questioning why I'm still here in the messages, why I would lower myself to stay any longer than necessary.
These people are not who I thought they were. They don't really care about me at all, they only care about how much money I have.
My stomach twists as the realization settles in my gut like a heavy weight. I'm not one of them. I never was and I never will be. I see that now. Ryder has given me the gift of sight. I've been blind for too long.
Troy never cared for me, but Ryder did.
My friends only see worth, where Ryder sees character.
What the fuck am I doing?
Why am I running back to a world that doesn't want me, when I have a life that's been waiting for me all this time?
I feel so stupid for not seeing it sooner. All those years of suppressing memories and acting like one life is better than the other has pulled a veil over my eyes. But not anymore.
Turning the wheel hard, I make a U-turn in the street, hitting the gas. I can't pretend anymore. What I feel inside is too strong to ignore.
Ryder is the only person who loves me for me. Nothing in the world can replace that. No amount of money can ever give me what he gives me. Because with him, I'm truly alive. I have real worth.
Whipping into the driveway, I stop the car, and jump out. Rushing into his house, I go from room to room. I'm not sure where he is, but the other car outside tells me my step-father wasn't lying. The rep is here.