I sit across from Caroline in the booth. I can’t believe what I just heard. “Are you serious? Does Oliver know you are telling me this?”
“No, he doesn’t yet, but I plan to tell him after the appointment today,” she replies. “I really don’t know what is going on in Jake’s head right now, but he is going to lose his children this time. Oliver won’t ever forgive him if we lose the stores.”
“I don’t understand how in three short years, he could mess everything up so badly. Those stores are profitable, and they have been for forty years-”
“Willow, we know it’s not the stores’ performances, and they are all doing well. Oliver has taken over paying the bills, so we don’t lose our suppliers or our good name. Willow, Jake has taken out loans and put up the stores as collateral, he’s mortgaged everything he owns. Amanda is running through his money and encouraging him to invest in her and her dreams.
“He’s purchased two buildings, and both will take thousands and thousands just to repair and get everything up to code for a business. A clothing business in poor, rural southern Ohio with a mall, Walmart, and a Kohls thirty minutes away doesn’t stand a chance. I know for certain now, after she showed me her ideas and designs. She lives on a different planet if she thinks my friends, hell, ninety-nine percent of our county will pay ninety dollars for a simple white blouse.”
“Stop talking, Caroline, please, I can’t handle hearing any more of how stupid Jake has become, it makes me sick to my stomach. What is Oliver’s plan for the store? Did he asked Jake about buying him out?”
She nods, and her face is red with anger at Jake, the fucking snake. “He told us not until he was dead would he let anyone take over what was his—”
“It’s yours, all of his children, even his infant daughter’s, not his alone, Caroline. His parents made certain that the boys were to inherit the two original stores. I don’t think anyone could have predicted a circumstance where Jake would ever fuck up everything and put that into jeopardy. I don’t know how to help. I can buy two stores free and clear, and if and when I sell my house, I’ll be able to purchase the third. It will wipe me clean out of everything. Still, I don’t care about that. I want my children and grandchildren to be proud to be a Nelson. To be a part of their legacy of providing whatever anyone in the county requests, we provide their needs and food for them. His parents raised Jake, and hell me too, to be there always for the people. I’m getting off-topic, but dammit, Caroline, I don’t know what to do. How can I help my children? How can I help this situation? Why won’t he sell if he never works there or has anything to do with it anymore?”
“I don’t know, Willow, he’s whipped and has become a different person. We don’t recognize him anymore. Christmas was so awkward tense at their house. We have all gotten to a place where things had settled down after the divorce. But now there’s this tension through the whole family again, but this time it’s different. I don’t want to judge Amanda, she’s a new mother, and I’m not there yet, but it was so weird. All six of us were there for the typical all-day lunch and dinner holiday celebration. It’s always hectic when all of us are together, but every single one of us all noticed the same thing.
“Jake held Izzy the whole time. Amanda drank wine with her parents; the three of them didn’t hold and dote on Izzy at all. It was odd. My mom scolded me for being judgy, but it was strange, wrong, and uncomfortable. At first, I thought I was hormonal and thinking I was the only one who noticed and was making more of what it really was, but when Drew brought it up, then Henry. I knew something wasn’t right with her and her family. They are different, cold and not friendly, not one bit even after what their daughter did to a family. You would think they would try to kiss some ass and get to know the children whose family was wrecked because of their daughter. Those children who are now brothers to their only grandchild. I’m imaging having to set a timer for you and mom to avoid any arguing over who holds this baby.”
She rubs her little rounded baby belly. I sigh, “I don’t know anything about them. I only know they moved into Shelton county when Amanda was in middle school.” I scrunch up my face in disgust, Caroline and Oliver were in high school. “Do you know we, Jake and I, didn’t fight or argue over splitting up our assets? Everything we had was split fifty/fifty, with the two original Nelson stores remaining with him and our children. I never pictured he could do this. If I could go back, I would have kept my three stores and given them and left them for my children. I never imagine this happening.”
I feel like crying, but I hold back my tears. Caroline and Oliver should be overjoyed with happiness right now. Not stressed out about losing their livelihood to an irresponsible asshole. “Let me think about this; try not to stress. I’ll talk with him next week at the gender reveal party at your house.”
“You don’t need the stress either. How are you doing since the mugging?”
I shrug, “I’m fine, it’s a part of city life, apparently. Half the people I’ve met in the city have been mugged or have seen one happen. I’m having more trouble with Aiden being an overbearing, paranoid boyfriend. I long for the day when I can run again by myself in the mornings. He looks around so much, waiting for someone to jump out and attack us; it makes me crazy. I’m focused on the good neighbor who called attention and scared away the mugger. It’s all I can do like I have to believe that somewhere, deep down in Jake is the boy and man I knew most of my life. I just don’t know how to reach that person anymore.”