I stick my billfold back in my jacket. “I need to get to the East Hampton airport actually. My plane is already set to meet me there. I just need Martin to take me, if you don’t mind.”
“He’s not here until later, I’m sorry to say.” She isn’t sorry. Her smile is too sweet, the sparkle in her eye too bright. She loves it when she’s in control of a situation. Loves it when other people’s plans don’t work out the way they’d like.
Not for the first time I wonder, did she teach me? Or did I teach her?
But I don’t dwell on the question. I don’t have the energy or the mood to cogitate this morning.
“I’ll take you,” Celia offers.
My jaw tenses. I can sense the trap I’m about to be caught in. “That’s not necessary,” I say, as politely as I can. “You have a meeting with my mother. I’ll take one of the other cars.”
I nod a goodbye and start to leave.
My mother steps in front of me, stopping me. “Don’t be silly, Hudson. Let her take you. Our business isn’t a rush. We can meet later. Can’t we, Celia?”
“Of course.” Celia’s grin makes me ill.
I run a hand through my hair. Between the lack of sleep, the tension surrounding Celia’s presence, my mother’s early morning drinking, and my inner turmoil regarding Alayna, I don’t have the strength to argue. “Fine.”
Besides, leaving Alayna alone with my mother is bad enough. Leaving her with Celia as well would be very unwise.
We’re ready to leave within ten minutes. At the door, my mother makes a show of saying goodbye, even though there’s no one to watch as Celia’s already waiting outside. Then she excuses herself to the kitchen, likely to refill her drink.
Mirabelle descends the stairs just before I depart. “Where are you going?”
I don’t have time to explain the whole situation, but I’m fearful of my mother’s version, so I get Mirabelle up to speed as succinctly as possible.
When I’ve finished, she doesn’t seem happy. “But you aren’t even going to say goodbye to Laynie?”
I shake my head. “I’m in a rush.”
She puts a fist on her round hip. “It will take you two minutes. Get the eff upstairs and tell your girlfriend what’s going on.”
“Mirabelle, I don’t have time for this.” I pull my shades from my briefcase pocket and put them on. I don’t need my sister peering into my eyes right now. I’m not sure what she’ll see.
“Hudson, this is…” She searches for what she thinks this is. “It’s terrible, is what it is. I’m usually on your side, and you know that, but I’m rather ashamed of you at the moment.”
You’re not the only one, I think. There’s nothing to say, so I start to go. The air feels tight leaving like this though, so I say over my shoulder, “Make sure Alayna…” I pause. I don’t know how to finish the statement. “Make sure she gets home okay.”
I escape before she has a chance to respond.
Celia’s waiting in the driveway. After setting my briefcase in the back, I get in the passenger seat and buckle my belt. The feel of it across my chest is confining. I release it again and try to convince myself that I’m better now, as though the small width of material is responsible for my inability to get a good breath. My stomach lurches as Celia’s car pulls down the long drive to the main road. I don’t glance back. I feel shitty enough as it is. This isn’t how I wanted to leave Alayna—with Celia, driving away without even a goodbye.
The thought gives me pause—is that what I’ve decided then? That I’m leaving her?
It’s unbearable, but it’s possible that it’s inevitable.
Only a few minutes have passed after Celia turns onto the highway before she speaks. “How long are you going to keep me waiting?”
I scrub my face with my hands. “What do you want to know, Celia?”
“Don’t be a f**king dick, Hudson.” Her glare is apparent even behind her dark sunglasses. “You know what I want.”
I do know. She wants a progress report, so to say. How can I answer? I’m still reeling from my recent self-discoveries. I’m lost. There’s nowhere I can turn in this maze without hitting a wall. I have no hope of escape. The question is—does Alayna?
I’m not an impulsive person, but I make a spur-of-the-moment decision. And though there is nothing ideal about it, I know it’s the best choice I can make. So I commit to it with everything I have. “It’s over, Celia,” I say. “The game is over.”
She groans. “Not this bullshit again.”
“No, not this bullshit. That’s not what I’m saying.” I turn my head to face her profile, letting her know the fullness of my sincerity. “I’m telling you that I’ve put my time in. Like you wanted. And now it’s over. There isn’t anything else that you need to complete your experiment.”
Her brow rises above the rim of her glasses. “What do you mean?”
“I mean…” I hate myself for what I’m about to say—for sharing something so intimate and private between me and Alayna—but I’m familiar with self-loathing. I force the words. “I mean that she’s already emotionally invested in me. I don’t need to spend any more time with her. I can end the business arrangement I have with Alayna, and you’ll be able to study her reaction like you wanted to.”
Celia’s still skeptical. “Game over means all of it, Hudson. That means the personal too.”
“I know.” Just like that, I let go of every possibility of anything more with Alayna. I’m walking away.
My chest constricts, and it’s hard to breathe. It feels like I’ve been caught under a giant boulder. My limbs are numb, I can’t move, and the pain…it’s sharp and persistent. Crushing.
With the severity of my agony, it’s not easy to explain why I’m doing this, even to myself, but I try to reason through it anyway. Alayna says she’s in love with me, and while I’m wary that anyone could possibly feel any affection for me, I feel her love. It pulses through my veins as if she injected it into my body with her kiss, with her nails on my back, with her pu**y when our fluids mingled in the heat of our lovemaking.
But the reality is that Alayna doesn’t really know me. Not all of me. And if she ever found out, not only would that love vanish, but she’d be hurt. I’m almost certain that would break her more than my abandonment now.