Fool Me Forever

By: Ainslie Paton


“If I’m interrupting, I’m sorry.” Easton took a step back and lowered his eyes, the picture of contrition. “I’ll wait.”

“What are you doing here?” Lenny asked. For all the blooms and calories, she wasn’t dripping forgiveness.

“Finish what you need to do, Len. I’ll wait.”

Lenny frowned. “This is Halsey Sherwood. He’s my, ah, accountant. He’s just leaving.”

No, hell no. A dislike of fieldwork didn’t mean he was leaving Lenny with her abusive asshole brother, who was in grand manipulation mode. Halsey made a show of slapping his head. “There’s one more thing I need to check. I’ll just—” He gestured to the laptop in Lenny’s office and then moved inside to her desk, where he had nothing to check and every intention of listening to Easton spin his psychopath’s web of deceit, which began before he’d even taken a seat.

“I came to give you these, Len. I don’t know what got into me. I’m stressed, I’ve got loan payment deadlines to meet, but that was no excuse for treating you like I did. I went off the deep end. You know I never liked it that Dad used to do that to us. It’s been hard, all this change, and I don’t want to fail us, and I know you get that. You’re my only ally. The only one who understands me. Mom is too dazed to know what’s going on, and I’ve been thinking maybe you’re right about Mal. Maybe we need to get her into counseling.”

“Great idea. You pay for it,” Lenny said flatly, making Halsey smile.

“You know my money is already earmarked for the new business, otherwise, I would. Once we’re able to sell assets, there’ll be money. We only need to tide ourselves over till then.”

“There is no money for us. After Dad’s creditors and the lawyers are paid, there’s nothing left.”

“No, that’s just what the Feds are saying. There’ll be money. We just have this short-term stress.”

“You’re wrong, but I’ll ask my accountant what he thinks.”

Halsey grinned wider at that. Lenny was making Easton work for his apology.

There was a pile of unopened mail on her desk. He picked it up and shuffled through it, stopping at a high-gloss, embossed envelope with the insignia of the United Heroes League on it. Hmm, could be trouble. He held it up to the light. The paper stock was too thick to see through. He slipped it into the inside pocket of his suit coat.

In the other room, Easton said, “We need a little more expertise than your small-time bookkeeper.”

He was right about that, given Halsey wasn’t a bookkeeper’s calculator despite his legitimate finance degree from a suitable Ivy League school and several forged ones from various other prestigious institutions. Still, he could out-calculate Easton without using all his fingers and toes. Lenny was correct. The Bradshaws were terminally broke.

Easton was moving about, a heavy tread on the floorboards. “You’re still angry, but you pushed all my buttons, and you know I’m trying to do the best for us. If you won’t help me, then I suppose I’ll find another way.”

Easton was a passive-aggressive shithead through and through. There was a rustling sound, paper crinkling, and then Lenny said, “You couldn’t give me money for groceries, but you bought me two dozen roses and eighty bucks worth of Jacques Torres chocolates.”

“They’re your favorites.”

A passive-aggressive shithead and a giant suck-up.

“I can’t give you money from Dollars for Daughters,” Lenny said.

“I know you think you can’t give me the money, and that’s okay. That’s about the advice you’re getting.” Oh-ho, another dig at the bookkeeper. That was A-class douchbaggery going down out there.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lenny wasn’t taking crap without a fight. “Are you suggesting I prioritize strangers over my family?”

“You said that, not me. You do so much for Mom and Mal.”

And there it was. Easton had turned up the guilt factor, insisting Lenny’s goodness wasn’t extended to him into a large blinking sign that said, YOU DON’T LOVE ME. Halsey had heard enough. He pressed his feet to the floor, but Lenny’s words stopped him.

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