When she gets nearer, she holds the envelope out toward me. “I can’t accept this. I’m in charge here. I can’t leave for a week to go to a spa.” She lowers her gaze. “Unless you’d rather I wasn’t working here.”
I practically snap in response. “Don’t ever think that.” The only reason I have the club is because of her. “If you think you can’t work with me as your owner, I’ll give you the club.” It’s hers anyway. In my head, in my heart. Where it counts.
She blinks a few times. “I just want to keep my job, thank you.”
I’m relieved. I’d been so afraid she’d quit. Not only because I’d lose access to her, but she’d lose the job she loved so much. I’m grateful she’s staying. “It’s yours as long as you want it.”
I push her hand and the envelope back toward her, a blatant excuse to touch her. “And the certificate—keep it. You can use it any time you want. There’s no expiration.” Even with just the brush of her finger, sparks travel through our skin.
She pulls away from me. “Fine. Whatever.”
Our conversation seems to be over now, and I’m disheartened that she’ll leave. But she surprises me. “There’s another thing.” She takes a deep breath. “I need to get my stuff from the penthouse.”
My stomach sinks. I’ve been dreading this. As long as her things are sitting safely at The Bowery, it feels like we’re still together. It’s still our home. We still have a chance. The minute she moves out, all of that is over.
I tighten my jaw. “I wish you wouldn’t do that.”
She ignores my statement. “I want to come get the rest of my things Monday.” Her hands fidget, and she stares at a spot behind me. At least this is hard for her too. That’s comforting.
“I can have it packed and moved for you, if you’d like.” My packing would consist of buying a lot of new items and putting them in boxes with her things. She’d have new clothing, new jewelry…
As if reading my mind, she says, “I’d rather pack it myself.”
Each no she delivers is another rejection. It’s silly how they feel so personal. I plead with her, “At least let me arrange a truck.”
She closes her eyes briefly. When she opens them, she lets out a reluctant sigh. “Okay. You can do that.”
“It’s done.” My lip ticks into a smile. “This doesn’t mean I’m done trying to win you back.”
“I didn’t think for a second that it did.” Was there a bit of flirtation in her tone?
I tilt my head and study her. Her features are softer than the last time she spoke with me. Her eyes have a hint of amusement, and she’s on the verge of a grin. I decide to push my luck. “You say that as if you almost enjoy my groveling.”
She rolls her eyes and gives me a wave as she turns back toward the club. She calls back to me over her shoulder, “I couldn’t say, H. I haven’t really seen you grovel yet.”
The rush from seeing her and talking without fighting stays with me until I get to the car. Then all at once it leaves. I sit behind the wheel of my Mercedes and try not to let the reality of the situation pull me under. Alayna’s moving out of the penthouse. Even though we’ve been apart, as long as her things are at The Bowery, as long as her bathroom products co-mingle with mine and her clothes hang on my hangers, then in my mind, we’re still together. The house is still ours.
Now she wants to end that.
It feels final. Like closure. And I don’t want closure.
Suddenly, I have to be there. I drive to The Bowery and enter my penthouse for the first time in weeks. The first thing I notice is the quiet. The tick-tock of the grandfather clock is the only sound stretching across the expanse of my four-thousand-square-foot condo. I walk into the living room and flick on the light.
Even with the glow of the high-wattage bulbs, the place feels cold and empty. There have been other occasions that I’ve been away on business for long periods of time, and yet when I returned, it never seemed so unlived in. It’s her absence I’m feeling. It’s all around me, everywhere I go, but here especially.
I slowly scan the room, taking in everything. That window where she stood, moonlight streaming on her face, the first time I saw her in my home. The dining room table where we reconnected over wine and food after a long day apart. The floor beneath where we f**ked like rabbits.
Every inch of space has a memory but nothing from before Alayna. Four years I’ve owned this property, and the only life that’s ever occurred here has been this summer. After her. Was there ever anything before her? Could there ever be anything without her?
Since the truth came out, I’ve grieved. I’ve mourned and ached and felt her absence both physically and emotionally. But I’ve yet to let myself be angry. Until now.
Rage bursts through me, spiraling through my veins, heating my skin, tightening my jaw. I’ve earned my circumstances. I deserve these consequences. But I want it to not be fair. For just a minute, I want someone else to blame. My mother and her drinking. Jack and his absent parenting. Celia and the f**ked-up game she played. The stone-cold ass**le that occupied my life until Alayna came into it.
He’s the real person to blame.
This house without her, these things, this furniture—it all belongs to him. Perfectly placed according to the suggestions of Celia Werner. The two of them. Old Hudson and Celia. Weren’t they a pair? Twisted, broken narcissists who didn’t give a shit about anyone or anything but their own entertainment.
To f**k with them. I don’t want anything to do with those people anymore.
With a burst of adrenaline, I sweep my arms across the side table, knocking down the designer lamp Celia bought for me at auction. The fragile ceramic base shatters when it hits the floor, filling the space with a sound other than loneliness.
It feels so good, I do it again. This time it’s the occasional table I attack. With a hand clutched at each side, I flip it over. The decorative tea tray that sat on top clatters and clangs across the floor. I like the noise it makes so much that I kick at the pieces again, denting the pot with the force of my blow. I pull at the curtains next. A clearing of the mantle follows. Never before lit candlesticks and framed pictures of random city scenes join the mess on the floor.
Then it’s the couch. I pull and claw at the cushions, throwing all my energy into this destruction. When I don’t make any noticeable marks, I go to the kitchen and grab the largest knife from the butcher block. A glance at the blade makes me wonder if it has ever been used. No time like the present.