Hudson (Page 100)

Hudson (Fixed #4)(100)
Author: Laurelin Paige

“You think it’s stupid?”

I’m surprised we’ve never discussed this before. All these years we’ve just let Sophia live as though her drinking wasn’t a big deal. As though it was normal. Because we’d never known her any other way, it actually was normal. It was the normal we knew, anyway.

But we’d grown up. Somewhere along the way, we realized that her behavior wasn’t healthy or sane. And still we’d done nothing.

Mirabelle’s right when she says it’s time we did something. “It’s not at all stupid,” I say. “It’s beautiful.”

Hope shines in her eyes. “Really, you think so?”

“I do.

“Thank you. That’s really a relief.” It shows. Her shoulders relax, and she stops nipping at her bottom lip.

Once again, Mirabelle moves me. I draw her into a hug. “I don’t know how you ended up surrounded by such broken and battered souls. We don’t deserve you. But I honestly believe none of us would have made it as far as we have if it hadn’t been for you holding us together. You’re our glue. You’re my glue.”

Jesus, when did I develop such diarrhea of the mouth?

Mirabelle nudges me with her elbow. “That was awfully poetic, Hudson. I’d say I didn’t know you had it in you, but that would be a lie. There’s hope for you yet.”

I’m not sure that’s true. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were?

***

That night, the weight of it all hits me. I’m in the loft, sitting on the couch in the dark, when pain rips through my chest like a bulldozer running me down. There isn’t a part of me that doesn’t ache—my hands, my feet. My head throbs. Blood rushes in my ears. My heart pounds as if it’s going to burst from my chest. It bends me over, stealing my breath. I gasp for air in huge gulps that are half-sobs.

It’s a death. The ending of what was, and the painful rebirth that follows. I wrap my arms around myself, my fingernails digging into my ribcage, clutching on as if I can hold to where I was. I will the world to stop spinning around me. I break out in a sweat. I cry the only name that gives me comfort. Her name. Over and over.

I don’t want to go through this. I don’t want to be without her. I don’t want to miss her like I do, longing for her taste, her touch, her sounds. I don’t want to be reborn in this new world, a world that means nothing in her absence.

I don’t want to be in this life without her.

***

The next morning, I’m met with a text on my phone. I hold my breath, hoping it’s from Alayna. It’s not, but the message motivates me to get out of bed anyway. It’s from Norma. All the papers are in place. I’ll have them waiting on your desk when you get in.

Finally, I have what I need to get rid of Celia once and for all.

Seven hours later, I’m sitting on the armchair in the loft, swirling the ice in my empty glass of Scotch while Celia looks over the contracts for the business I’ve worked so hard to acquire. I’ve dragged this moment out, letting her argue and goad before presenting her with the facts. It’s the last game I ever plan on playing, and I want to enjoy it.

Except there isn’t any enjoyment in it. There’s no rush. There’s no thrill. Perhaps I’m too numb with sadness about Alayna, but I know that’s not it. I’ve lost the taste for the play. That’s all.

So as Celia reads, I silently say goodbye. Even through the ache, I feel a breath of peace.

I watch her as she flips through the pages. She takes her time. I’m sure some of the language is difficult for her to sift through, but I can tell when she understands. Her face goes white, and her breathing slows.

Finally, she asks, “How did you…?”

“Very sneakily.” I force myself to relish this moment. I did this for Alayna, and I wish she could witness it. I’m proud that I could do this for her, though she would never have needed this sort of protection if it weren’t for me in the first place. “I’ll admit, it wasn’t easy. I had to convince another company to purchase a portion of the stock, and then I bought out that company—you don’t really want the details, do you?”

She scowls. Every trace of humor has left her eyes.

“The contracts are signed now. That’s all that matters. I’m officially the majority owner of Werner Media Corporation.”

Celia’s lips tighten as she closes the file that contains the contracts. “And you said you’d quit playing the game.”

“I had one final move to make.” I wonder briefly if she really thinks that’s what all of this is for me—another game. She’d loved once upon a time. Doesn’t she remember?

A familiar stab of guilt strikes me, low and hard in the gut.

And then it’s gone.

It’s been so easy to blame myself for her choices. But sooner or later, we have to take responsibility for ourselves—just as Dr. Alberts said. I may have taught her this life, but she’s the one who chose to embrace it. Now, as I try to show her another way to live, she refuses to see it.

I’m not responsible for her. It’s the final snipping of the cord that bound us together. The last strand between us clipped, and now we’re both completely free.

Celia sees it too. She lets me go with a long, slow hiss of air. “It’s checkmate, is it then?”

“You tell me.” It’s almost admirable how she plays to the very end. Once upon a time, I would have been impressed. Now, I’m weary.

“What are your plans for Werner Media?”

This is a fair question. “At the moment, I have no plans. The company’s doing well as it is. Warren Werner is definitely the right man to be in charge. However, if there were any reason that I felt his presence was no longer needed…” I trail off, letting her fill in the blanks.

“He’d be devastated.” Her brows are pinched, and her usual stone-cold expression has been replaced with despondency.

I feel a flicker of relief. I’d gambled here. My entire plan only worked if Celia still had the capability to care for someone other than herself—namely, her father. It’s further proof that she’s only living like she’s heartless because she chooses to.

Though I don’t rule out that her concern may be monetary—I’ve been convinced for ages that Celia lives off her daddy’s wealth. And while he’d still have it even if I stole his title, it’s less likely he’d feel as generous. It’s well-known that a happy Warren is a sharing Warren.