Celia had driven Hudson from his parents’ house in the Hamptons to the airport for his business emergency with Plexis. “Just since yesterday. When he came back from Cincinnati, we sort of had it out and then—” I suddenly realized the source of the awkwardness. Though Celia and Hudson hadn’t ever been together for real, she had thought she loved him. I had no reason to be jealous of her, but she had plenty reason to be jealous of me. “Is this weird for me to talk about?”
“Weird? Why?” Her face relaxed with understanding. “Oh, he told you.”
“He did.” I wasn’t sure how she’d feel knowing I knew such intimate details of her life. “I’m sorry if that makes you uncomfortable.”
“No, not at all. It surprises me. He’s never talked about it with anyone. I’m not even sure he told his therapist.” She chewed on her bottom lip for a moment. “What exactly did he say? Do you mind me asking?”
“Of course not, it’s only fair I tell you. But can we sit down first?” Maybe sitting would get rid of the confrontational feeling between us.
She nodded and we made our way to the sofa. I sat facing her, my legs curled up underneath me. “Well. He, um, explained about how he, uh, made you fall for him and then slept with your best friend. He said it was all a game. Which makes sense now, how you knew that he did that to women.” Celia had been the one who’d filled me in on Hudson’s mind games.
“Yep. I spoke from experience.” Her voice had lost some of its usual cheerfulness, but nothing seemed to indicate that talking to me was painful or unpleasant.
Her ease helped me go on. “And he told me about the baby.”
I watched her chest rise and fall before she responded. “What did he say about that?”
“That you didn’t know who the father was, so he said it was his. So you wouldn’t be disowned or disgraced or whatever. Since he felt responsible for the situation.” Even though none of the information was new to Celia—she’d lived it, after all—a part of me felt guilty for sharing things Hudson had told me in confidence.
Another part of me, a bigger part, wanted to know more about his rocky past and getting anything out of him was difficult, to say the least. Celia’s unexpected arrival brought an opportunity to learn, and I wasn’t throwing that away.
“Hmm. Well, that about covers all of it.” She tapped a long peach-painted nail on her knee as she processed. “Silly Hudson. He shouldn’t feel responsible for anything. I was a grown woman. I can own up to my actions. He doesn’t still feel that way, does he?”
“Yeah. I think he still does.” I didn’t think he did, I knew it. It was the reason he kept himself so closed off, the reason it had been so hard for him to let me in. Because of his mother or his therapist or for whatever reason, he’d been conditioned to believe that he was incapable of caring for anyone, and the horrible things he’d done to people such as Celia was his proof. That he could take his friend and manipulate her life, cause her to act so recklessly that she got pregnant from a stranger and then lost her child—that was evidence to Hudson that he was a despicable person. Because no decent person would do that in his mind.
But to me, the fact that he was so traumatized by the things he’d put Celia through was evidence of the contrary—he could feel. He cared enough to regret his actions. That didn’t show heartlessness. That showed humanity.
Celia rolled her eyes. “That’s ridiculous. He really needs to get over himself. That was practically a decade ago now. It’s old news.”
I agreed on that count. Maybe by finally having love in his life, Hudson would learn to move on.
As for Celia, I wasn’t sure she had yet. “So you don’t still have feelings for Hudson?” It wasn’t hard for me to imagine harboring an unrequited love for ten years because I obsessed. The only reason I’d gotten over some of my past obsessions was because I’d had therapy. Not that Celia suffered from the obsessive disorder I did, but it wasn’t unheard of to be in love with your friend for years and nothing ever coming of it. It was the material of great books.
What did that make me? In Celia’s story, was I the villain?
Possibly I was over-dramatizing. As always.
Celia leaned forward and put her hand over mine, taking me off-guard. “I totally have feelings for him, Laynie. He’s my best friend. I’ve loved him since I met him which was before I could even talk. But I’m not in love with him. I don’t think I ever was. He played me and I thought…well, anyway, I’m not now. My mother will tell you differently, but she believes what she wants. If I was in love with him, I would have let that arranged marriage thing work out instead of supporting a sham to throw our parents off.”
“Yeah, that makes sense.” I took my hand away from hers before it felt creepy. It already felt creepy—I wasn’t much of a touchy-feely person. “Then it doesn’t bother you that we’re together?”
“Bother me? I’m happy for him! For both of you, actually. Truthfully, I was beginning to think Sophia was right, that he couldn’t possibly love anyone because he’d never shown any inclination toward anyone. Except to mess with them, of course. It was really very sad. This is definitely a change for the better.”
I wanted to be happy with her. Except when she’d brought up Hudson’s past, it reawakened one of my greatest fears.
“What did I say?” Celia asked.
She must have seen the worry in my expression. I never did have a good poker face. “Nothing.” It was probably best that I didn’t say anything. Only, Celia might be the one person I could talk to about it. The one person who would understand and give me insight.
I shifted, bringing my knees up to my chest. “It’s just, I’ve been worrying it was too good to be true, and I keep wondering if maybe I’m…if he’s…”
“If he’s playing you, too?”
My brown eyes met her blues. “Yes.”
She nodded once and frowned. “That is something I’d worry about.”
Well, that wasn’t the consolation I was hoping for.
“I’m not saying you should be worried,” she added. “It would just cross my mind as a possibility. Especially knowing his past, and since this arrangement or relationship he has with you is so entirely different than anything he’s ever had before.”