“You know him, what do you think?” Jesus, my lip quivered when I spoke. How pathetic was I?
She tapped her finger on her knee again. “I don’t think he’s playing that game anymore. Really, I don’t. He’s had counseling, and it’s been a good two years since he’s had any…incidents.”
I made a mental note to ask what she meant about incidents at another time. Right now, though, it wasn’t enough of a priority to interrupt.
“I guess he could be having a relapse, but…” Her words trailed off. “What has he said to you?”
“That he wants to be with me. That’s he’s committed to making a relationship work.” Or similar things that I didn’t want to share. They were my words and not meant to be given away to just anyone.
Celia scooted an inch closer to me as if we were in a room full of people and she was about to divulge a secret. “Let me tell you something about Hudson and the way he plays women. He doesn’t lie. Ever. That’s the brilliant part of his manipulative skills. He never says anything that you can throw back at him later. It’s all truth spun to make you read more into what he’s saying. He makes you think he’s offering more than what he’s really offering without ever saying the words. You know what I mean?”
“I think so.” Now that I thought about it, I knew exactly what she meant. Hudson chose his words so precisely and handled himself with such care that I could see how he’d be able to spin any situation so that he’d have the upper hand. It was what made him a good businessman, I imagined.
“So if he’s said those things to you, I’d believe them,” Celia reassured. “And he’s never, ever brought a woman to his penthouse before. That’s common knowledge. Even Sophia knows that. He’s never wanted anyone to be able to find him after he, you know, broke their heart.”
That made total sense. If you were a guy playing people, you wouldn’t want them to have access to your private life. I’d felt almost the same when I’d feared my ability to remain aloof from him—I hadn’t wanted to know where he lived so that I wouldn’t latch on.
Funny how we both were now in exactly the positions we hadn’t ever thought we’d be in.
Celia was watching me, gauging my reactions. I could sense she wanted to say more, but perhaps didn’t know how. “Has he said…how he feels about you?”
“Yes.” Well…“No.” But he had implied it. Now I couldn’t even quite remember what he had said and the ball of worry in my stomach began to tighten. “I mean, he’s said some things, but he hasn’t actually said he loved me.”
But I knew he meant it. Right?
Celia smiled. “I don’t think he’s ever told anyone he loved them. Not even his mother. So that might be a while, if ever. Don’t take that omission as a sign of anything.” She straightened. “No, I think you’re good. I think this is good. I think it’s real.” She clapped her hands together. “Yay! Hudson Pierce has a girlfriend! How exciting!”
“Yeah, it is exciting.” The warmth of it spread through my body. “Totally exciting.” Because none of this had happened to me before. I’d never had a relationship with someone who returned my feelings. Every guy I’d found to be the one never had a chance to see if they felt the same before I ruined it by clinging and suffocating. And the times I’d thought I’d been in love I’d really been more in love with the idea of someone being in love with me. I’d learned that through group therapy. That was why I held on to any slim nugget of interest a guy threw my way—because I so desperately yearned to be loved.
But this time, I wasn’t being desperate and I wasn’t clinging and I wasn’t obsessing. Not more than reasonably, anyway. It was definite cause for celebrating.
I beamed at Celia. “I can’t tell you how good it feels to talk to someone about him. Thank you so much.”
“I bet. And no problem. Any time.” She paused. “How are things going with Sophia?”
“I don’t know.” More like I didn’t care. Hudson’s mother and I were never going to be friends. Not when she’d belittled me and called me a slut. Not when she was so against Hudson finding anything good in life. “I told her off the last time I saw her. I’m hoping I don’t have to deal with her anytime soon.”
“Oh. You don’t have plans to see her then? Like, to show her your coupledom and everything?” She seemed surprised by that, and perhaps it was surprising after the lengths Hudson had gone to show me off to his mother when we weren’t actually a couple.
“No, thank god. I think Hudson’s given up on convincing her of anything. Which is fine by me.”
“Totally. Who needs Sophia?”
I didn’t, that was for sure. But Celia, on the other hand…“You’re chummy with her.” We’d addressed everything else, might as well address Sophia too.
“Well, I live by that friends close, enemies closer philosophy. It works for me.”
“Yeah it does. She adores you.” I may have sounded a little bit jealous. Which was ridiculous since I hated Sophia Pierce.
“She adores me because she adores my mother. Besides, she thinks that if I’m with Hudson, she’ll have complete access to his life. Like I’d share anything personal with her. I have her snowed, that’s all.”
“Then all I have to do to get her on my side is to snow her too?”
“Maybe.” Celia’s eyes narrowed as she considered. Then she shook her head. “Seriously, forget her. She’s not worth it. Have you heard about the time that Hudson told her—” The grandfather clock in the foyer chimed once. “Oh, my, is it really one o’clock already?” Celia checked her watch. “It really is. I have a full afternoon. I’ve got to get going.” She stood and smoothed down her dress. “I’m sorry to rush off like this. It was great talking to you.”
“Yeah, this was nice.” I hated to admit it, but I was disappointed to see her go. Especially when she was about to tell me a story about Hudson. She had so much to offer in terms of understanding him. She’d already made me feel better and there was so much more to be gained from speaking with her.
“We should totally get together again,” Celia exclaimed, almost at the exact moment I was thinking it. “Here.” She pulled a card out of her purse and handed it to me. “My cell is on here. Call me and we can do coffee. Tomorrow, maybe?”