Brian stood first and held his hand out to help me up.
I was at the end of the hall when Brian called after me.
“Yeah?” I turned to look at him.
“Let’s not be like them, okay?”
He didn’t have to specify for me to know exactly what he meant. “You mean the hateful, spiteful, backstabbing family thing isn’t appealing to you?”
I stared at him in the dim light. He seemed younger than usual, more boyish than I tended to think of him. A week before, I thought he was out of my life. Now he was asking not to be.
My smile was weak but sincere. “Then it’s settled. We won’t be like them.”
Without even undressing, I fell onto the much too large, much too lonely bed. Burying my sobs in the pillow that smelled the most like Hudson, I cried until dawn when sleep finally swallowed me in its welcome black void.
When I stumbled out of bed the next morning, I felt hungover. Emotionally hung over, I guess, since I hadn’t been drinking. I stripped out of the dress I’d slept in and replaced it with my robe. I found a pot of lukewarm coffee in the kitchen, and after heating up a mug in the microwave, I set out to find Brian.
He turned up on the balcony. He was sitting at the patio table flipping through a stack of papers. Something for a case, I supposed. Brian was the take-work-with-him-everywhere type of guy.
“Good morning.” He looked at his watch. “Or should I say good afternoon?”
“Sorry. I didn’t get much sleep last night.” I pulled my robe tighter around me and sat in the seat across from him.
“You look like shit.”
“Thanks.” I took a swallow from my mug, wincing when I burned my tongue.
“Are you supposed to be at work today?”
“Tonight.” I was meeting with Aaron Trent at eight that evening. Good thing I’d prepared earlier because I certainly wasn’t in the shape to do it now. “Thanks for asking, Dad.”
“Got to start practicing.”
Jesus, I was a lousy sister. I’d forgotten that his wife was pregnant. I hadn’t even asked him anything about it. “How far along is Monica, anyway?”
He smiled in a way I’d never seen him smile before, all proud and happy. “Four months. We find out the sex in a few weeks.”
“That’s pretty cool. And a little bit scary too.”
“Tell me about it.”
Brian as a dad. Wow. So exciting and weird and that meant I was going to be an aunt. That hadn’t clicked yet. God, I wasn’t ready to be an aunt. How could Brian be ready to be a father?
I took another sip of my coffee, this time blowing on it first. Yeah, I needed the caffeine to calm me down. That sounded about right.
Brian went back to shuffling through the papers in front of him and I caught the logo of a phone company at the top of one. “What are you looking at?”
“Celia’s cell log. She left a printout here.” He rifled back a page. “I was looking at the calls she made. She called The Sky Launch once. Last Friday. Here it is.” He put the paper on the table and turned it toward me, pointing to a familiar one. “Isn’t that the club’s number?”
“Yeah, it is. But she never called me at the club. Wait, I know that number, too.” I pointed to the one above it. “That’s Aaron Trent’s office.” Things clicked into place. “That bitch. She’s the one who canceled my meeting with him.”
“What are you talking about?”
Celia had known about the meeting with Trent and about Sophia’s birthday dinner. She had to have guessed that if Trent rescheduled that I’d end up at the party. She had caused a scene. How good was she?
Brian was still looking at me expectantly.
“Oh, it’s nothing now. I had a meeting and when it got canceled it stirred up a lot of crap between me and Hudson. Long story.” My eyes trailed down the list, spotting a number I knew by heart. It was all over the page. “That’s Hudson’s number.”
“She has quite a few calls to him.”
“I see that.” I swallowed. “I don’t know what to think about that.”
“None of them are very long. And she always called him.”
“Hmm.” That was comforting, wasn’t it? Except what did Celia Werner call Hudson about? Why so often? I didn’t like the unanswered questions.
I sat back and pulled my knee to my chest, resting my foot on the chair.
“So what now? Between you and Hudson Pierce?” Brian echoed my thoughts.
And wasn’t that the question—What now?
“I’m not sure.” I rubbed my cheek against the silk fabric draped over my knee. “I guess I’ll wait until he comes back and we’ll see how that goes. The time apart might be good for us. Give us some time to think.” Time to decide where I fit in Hudson’s life, where Celia fit in Hudson’s life. Where Hudson fit in my life.
“Good plan.” He paused. “You know, just because he doesn’t believe you doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. Trust me. I speak from experience.”
I met his eyes. “Yeah, I guess you do.” I’d always known Brian loved me, even when he was a total shithead. And I’d always understood his motives. Why was it so hard for me to grasp that about Hudson? Because he’d never said he loved me? Because the idea was too good to be true? I wasn’t sure. Yes, there were definitely things to think about.
Brian tossed the cell phone papers down. “Anyway, speaking of phones, do you want me to go with you to get a replacement today?”
This was the one thing I’d already thought about. “No. I’m afraid if I have it I’ll call Hudson.” The tug of fixation already threatened whenever I thought about my laptop sitting in my bag in the bedroom. How I could internet-stalk him. How I could try to figure out where he was, what he was doing. I’d been so strong. The last thing I wanted was Celia’s fake accusation to find truth.
I peered at Brian, seeing if he understood. “I need to be completely cut off from him to get my head around everything, you know?”
“Not really. But if you say so.”
“Yeah. I say so.”
Brian left Thursday morning and the days after that became a blur. Without him around to pull me out of myself and put time in context, I lost track of the minutes and the hours that Hudson had been gone. All I knew was that every passing second felt like a decade, every night alone in our bed felt like a century.