My Darling Clementine: Part 10
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Clem hadn’t seen her father in months, and now here he stood, blustering like a thunder cloud about to burst in her foyer. She knew it was coming, knew he would find out she was here sooner or later. She had only hoped it would be later. Later than the morning after, Max told her he wanted to stay.
Max followed her down the stairs, both in their robes, hair tousled from sleep even though it was well into the afternoon.
Her father looked them up and down with such blatant disgust, Clem flinched. But Max’s strong hand was at her back, and she forced herself to meet her father’s eye.
“I am so glad you’ve made yourself comfortable in my home.” His voice was like steel, cold and hard. But he didn’t yell. Her father never yelled. He didn’t need volume to be terrifying.
Max held out his hand. “Maxwell Bishop, sir. Happy to finally meet you.”
Her father looked at his hand like it was something filthy. Max didn’t pull it away until the famous Henry Whitford shook it.
“Max is my fiancé, father.” Clem rushed to explain, as though their engagement would erase everything her father was angry about.
Her father’s eyes narrowed, and a smirk crossed his handsome face. “You’re engaged to be married. How convenient.” And at that moment, Clem knew why her father was here. He knew. He knew about the inheritance and her aunt’s stipulation. She opened her mouth to speak, to stop him from saying what he was about to say, to tell Max everything she should have told him last night, but it was too late.
“Your fiancé must know about your aunt’s money.”
Max cut in. “Sir, I know I want to marry your daughter. I don’t care about anyone’s money.” He echoed his words from last night, and they cut through Clem like a knife. He had been so honest, had promised her this was real. And she had still kept her secret.
Henry’s laugh was more like a hiss than anything joyful. “Where did you find this one, Clem?”
He held up a hand to stop her from speaking. She obeyed out of habit. “You’ll be happy to know Clementine; your Aunt Viola died last night in her sleep. Once you marry this poor sap, the money will be yours.”
Max’s hand stilled on her back. She watched the realization settle on his face. A muscle twitched in his jaw, but he didn’t speak.
“Congratulations to the happy couple.” Her father smoothed his waistcoat and turned to leave, but before he did, he added, “When that money comes in, I want you out of here, Clementine.” The door closed behind him with a click that echoed through the room.
As soon as her father was out the door, Max’s hand fell from her back.
“Max, I can explain.”
“There’s nothing to explain, darling.” His face was a mask, his emotions skillfully hidden. But Clem could see the clench in his jaw and the pain in his eyes. “I was using you, and you were using me. That was the deal from the beginning.”
He pushed past her to climb back upstairs, but she grabbed his arm and made him face her. “I had no other choice. My father disowned me after the strike. I promised to take care of Mae. I had to do something.”
“And manipulating me was easy.”
“You said it yourself! You were using me too! But then things changed, Max. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Funny how when I was making my little confession last night, none of this came up.” His eyes flashed angrily behind the hair that had flopped over his forehead.
“I was going to tell you!”
“When? On our wedding day?”
The words fell between them. Was that her plan? Did she think she could marry him and be happy and get her aunt’s money? God, she was such a fool.
Max turned and continued climbing the stairs, away from her, and she didn’t know how to get him back.
The money was stacked neatly on the desk. For a moment, he was tempted to take it and get the hell out of here, but he wouldn’t do that to Mae. He paced the room, trapped. If he had any idea how to get home, he would go.
A clean slate. That’s what he told her last night. He returned what he stole, and then some, confessed his true feelings. He had fallen for this girl, had actually considered staying here in this backward time so he could be with her.
And still, she lied. Continued to lie to get her hands on more money! The bile rose in his throat, and his stomach burned in embarrassment. She must have thought he was an idiot.
“Max.” She entered without a knock. It was her room, after all. Her eyes were red from crying, and he hated that he wanted to make her feel better. “Please, I’m sorry.”
He sat heavily on the edge of the bed. There was only one solution here that didn’t make him feel destined for hell. “I’m going to marry you.”
“What?” She stepped toward him, her face momentarily hopeful.
“For the money.” The severity of his voice stopped her in her tracks. “I’ll marry you. You can get your aunt’s money. And then I’ll be on my way.” He cleared his throat, not letting his voice break on the last words. He had given her too much of himself, and now he wanted it back.
“Oh.” Her voice was small. She was rumpled and mussed from their late-night, angry and sad from her father’s visit. The urge to pull her into his arms was so strong he clenched his fists in his lap to fight it.
“You don’t have to do that.”
“And what am I supposed to do, Clem? Leave you here with nothing? What will you do? Go get a job in one of your father’s factories?”
“I could figure something out.” She rolled her shoulders back, trying to convince him she was strong. But he could see the fear in her eyes. She had nowhere else to go.
He shook his head. “No. We’ll meet your aunt’s little marriage stipulation, and you’ll get your inheritance.” He sighed, running his hand through his sticky hair. “And then I’m leaving.”
Featured image by Roksolana Zasiadko via Unsplash.