When he’d finished a decent portion of his meal, about the same time I thought I’d shoot myself over the banality of our conversation, Brian cleared his throat. “Laynie, I’m not here to catch up. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about our situation lately and have realized that you’re a grown woman with an excellent education. It’s time for you to assume more responsibility for yourself. I’m not doing you a favor by enabling you.”
I took a long swallow of my water, contemplating how to react to his sudden statement. Old connotations of the word “enable” stung me. Was he insinuating that I wasn’t well? And how was I not responsible for myself? I was living and working in the Big Apple—if that didn’t take responsibility, I didn’t know what did.
Ever impatient, Brian didn’t wait for me to choose my response. “I can’t let you throw your life away at a nightclub. You are too vulnerable to work in that type of establishment.”
The Sky Launch. Brian had never liked me working there, not from day one. But he’d accepted it because I’d kept out of trouble. Had he now forgotten? “I haven’t had any issues since I’ve worked there.”
“You had school to keep you occupied. You need something more challenging to focus on.”
Never mind that I’d worried about the exact same thing myself, I was pissed. “Brian, I know how to handle my triggers. And what do you know about it? You never went to any support meetings.”
His voice rose uncomfortably high for the serene surroundings. “Because I’m not your parent!”
That was the crux of the whole conversation. Brian had been forced into parenting me and I’d always suspected he resented me for it. Now I knew for sure.
He stared at his near empty plate. When he spoke again it was quieter. “Look, Monica’s having a baby.”
And everything clicked into understanding. I was being replaced. “Congratulations.”
“I need to focus my energy and money on her and the baby. It’s time for you to be grown-up.” He straightened in his seat, as if to strengthen his position. “I’m not paying for the apartment anymore.”
“But I can’t afford to pay for the apartment! Not right now with my student loans about to be due.” I was painfully aware that I sounded petulant and spoiled, but I had always assumed he’d help me for a while longer. It wasn’t like he didn’t have the money.
“Then maybe you better look for a better paying job.”
“Brian, that’s not fair.”
“Think about everything I’ve been through with you and then talk to me about fair.”
He couldn’t have hurt me more with any other words. “I haven’t had any problems in a long time,” I whispered.
“You violated a restraining order.”
“Over four years ago!”
“I’m sorry, Laynie. I can’t support you anymore.” His words were final. He’d made his decision; there would be no convincing him otherwise.
I saw what it had done to him, the years of caring for a mentally disturbed sibling. I’d known—I’d always known—but had never wanted to believe that my actions had hurt him so deeply. It stirred an old ache I had buried.
But I was also angry. I might not be fragile anymore, but I certainly wasn’t steady on my own. Not financially anyway. I needed his support now as much as ever and as shitty as it was, he was my only family. I had no one else.
I threw my napkin on the table and, not sure if I hoped to sound more sincere or snotty, said, “Thanks, Brian. Thanks for everything.” I grabbed my purse from the back of my chair and walked out of The Peacock Alley, careful not to look back. I wanted to appear strong and stoic. Turning back would give my brother a good look at my tears.
I let myself cry until I left the hotel. Once on the street, the city bustle and grit steeled me. I didn’t need Brian. I could do it on my own. Sure he’d helped me foot the bill since my crazy antics had ran through all of my inheritance money, but support and responsibility was much more than throwing cash around.
I hurried back to my apartment, aware that Brian didn’t try to stop me or call me. I spent the next hour behind my computer, figuring out my bills and expenses, searching for ways to make cuts. With a promotion at the club—which wasn’t guaranteed—I could pay for my apartment. But I wouldn’t be able to afford my student loans when they went into repayment the next month.
Brian had effectively trapped me. Not a bad strategy. The Laynie from a day before would have to give into his wishes, taking a job at one of the high paying corporate offices that had pursued me at graduation.
Fortunately, I had another option.
Taking a deep breath, I picked up my cell phone and pushed redial. God, was I really doing this? I was. And if I was honest about it, I was glad for the excuse. Maybe I really should have been thanking Brian.
The number Hudson had called the night before rang only once before he answered. “Alayna.” His voice was smooth and sexy. Not sexy like he was coming on to me but like the sex he exuded naturally.
The confidence threw me. “Uh, hi, Hudson.”
“Is there something I can help you with?” I sensed he enjoyed my uncertainty. Why couldn’t I display the same confidence he did? I never had anxiety issues at work or at school.
The thought of school jostled something and I blurted out the question that had niggled at me during lunch. “How did you know I was intelligent?”
I heard a creak and I pictured him leaning back in a leather chair behind an executive desk. “What do you mean?”
“You said I was…” I blushed, glad he couldn’t see me. “Beautiful and intelligent—“
He interrupted me. “Exquisitely beautiful and extremely intelligent.”
“Yeah, that.” Having heard them before made his words no less effective. The matter-of-fact manner of his statement should have felt clinical and cold, but they were anything but. A shiver ran up my spine. I cleared my throat. “But you’ve barely talked to me. How do you know anything about my intelligence?”
He paused only briefly. “The graduate symposium at Stern. I saw you present.”
“Oh.” The symposium had been held a month before graduation and had featured the top students from the MBA program. Each of us had presented a new or innovative idea for a panel of experts. My presentation had been called Print Marketing in a Digital Age. I hadn’t wanted to know who was on the panel, knowing that names would send me into obsessive researching and online stalking. Afterward, the experts and presenters were invited to a wine and cheese soiree, so that students could schmooze and corporate execs could make job offers. I’d presented for the experience. For the honor. I hadn’t wanted a job, so I’d skipped the after affair.