Hudson (Page 63)

Hudson (Fixed #4)(63)
Author: Laurelin Paige

Her monologue was slow and burdened. As though it was hard to say, or like it was the first time she’d ever thought the words. I wasn’t even sure if she was finished speaking or not, but her last statement begged for response. “Why would you want to do that?”

“Because I remember what it’s like to be in love.” She pulled the covers up to her chin, tucking herself away. Hiding.

But she exposed herself once more. “I’d like to feel that again, I think. Someday.”

“Again, I ask, why the f**k would you want to do that?”

“You’ve never been in love, Hudson. You couldn’t understand.” She turned to her side, her back to me. “Goodnight.”

It was clear the conversation was over, so I didn’t push her. Besides, I didn’t want to continue it, not really. Though I was very much interested in whatever it was that kept that hope of love burning inside of her. Even now, after all the time she’d spent with me—how could she possibly still feel that pull? I was dying to understand.

But there were other thoughts that were swimming through my head that I didn’t want to explore. Like, why now? Where did this come from? Was it connected to our playful banter earlier on the couch? Was Celia still carrying a torch that I had effectively ignored?

If I had to make a guess, I’d say that she wasn’t so much still enamored with me but with the emotion in general. Both ideas were perplexing, but I couldn’t believe that I’d missed signs of her affection for so long.

There was something else that kept me awake long after Celia had slipped into rhythmic breathing at my side. If she really did stop playing the game eventually, where would that leave me? Alone again. It had never bothered me before, but now…

Now, I’d grown accustomed to Celia’s companionship. The experiment had evolved with her help, and I’d found considerably more joy in it since she’d joined. If she didn’t continue to play, we’d have no bond between us anymore. Our friendship would fall away. And for reasons I couldn’t explain, that wasn’t something I could live with.

So I wouldn’t let it happen. We’d keep playing, and she’d see how ridiculous it was to want a happy ending. There weren’t happy endings. Not really. There were only those who got that and the fools who didn’t. Celia and I would not be the fools.

Chapter Eighteen

After

We’re quiet as we drive to the restaurant for my mother’s birthday. Alayna’s nervous—I’m sure that’s the reason for her silence. Mothers in general are intimidating, I hear. My mother beats them all.

I’m nervous as well, for more than one reason. First, I’m worried about subjecting Alayna to this evening with Sophia. It’s partly why I hadn’t told her about tonight. Alayna was supposed to be working, so I used that as an excuse not to bring it up. Then her plans were canceled, and I had to make a decision. She thinks she wormed her way into an invite, but, honestly, I wanted her with me. I always want her with me.

Now I’m left with a bigger problem. Celia. I’m certain she’ll be there. Her family has joined us for my mother’s birthday dinners for as long as I can remember, so the scenario isn’t unlikely. And that brings up so many potential issues. Alayna, for one, may not be happy if Celia is present. I’ve promised her I won’t spend time with Celia without her. It hadn’t even occurred to me that this evening would break that promise until I realized Alayna would be with me.

I should tell her now. But I can’t bring myself to say it because I’m hoping to God that it isn’t an issue, that Celia doesn’t come tonight. Not because Alayna will be upset, but because I don’t want to see Celia. At all.

Even the thought of it causes sweat to bead across my brow.

As the limo pulls up to the curb, I wipe my forehead and laugh inwardly at myself. I’m a man who’s generally self-assured and confident, and now, at the thought of my petite, demure childhood friend, I’m frightened. It’s my own fault. I should have contacted her before now. It’s been three days since I completely left the experiment, and I’ve yet to tell Celia. I’ve avoided it, not knowing what to say. All my focus has been on Alayna, making her part of my world, inviting her to live with me—it feels like a lifetime since Celia drove me to the airport in the Hamptons and I told her I was done. I’m not that man anymore. I’m completely new.

Stepping out of the car, I casually glance around for sight of her before reaching back to help Alayna out. Celia’s nowhere to be seen, and it shouldn’t matter if she was. She likely won’t be surprised to see us. She knows I haven’t broken things off since she showed up at my penthouse while Alayna was there. The game was supposed to have ended before that. But she can only guess what the circumstances are to have made me change the plans. I’m sure she suspects something’s different—I’ve never had a woman at my house before. Not one I was in a relationship with. Not even one I was pretending to have a relationship with. It’s a change in my pattern that Celia will not have missed.

Yes, there’s a lot to be said to Celia, a lot that’s past due. When I finally do tell her the truth, she’ll retaliate. It’s not a question.

I gesture to Alayna to go ahead of me while I make arrangements with Jordan for our pickup. A last minute urge to flee seizes me. I could call Alayna back, take her somewhere else, enjoy the evening with her to myself. My mother will throw a fit and drink more than usual, or maybe exactly as much as usual, which is already too much. But I won’t care because I’ll be far away from all of it.

Our problems wouldn’t be solved, though. Simply postponed. Which is why I decide to continue with this horror of an evening. It will be worse because Alayna is with me, but I’m strangely comforted knowing she’ll be beside me through it all.

I step into the lobby after her and look at my watch. We’re a few minutes late. This shouldn’t be a problem. I called my mother earlier to let her know I was bringing Alayna, so the table should already be prepared for us. In the elevator up to our floor, I take her hand. I need to touch her even if it’s only in this simple capacity. It gives me strength. It reminds me my power lies in her.

The tension in my neck and shoulders tightens as we ascend. I realize that I don’t know what Alayna will do when she discovers Celia is here, if she’s here. Maybe it won’t be a big deal. But if it is…? Will Alayna be tight-lipped and cold? Will she lash out? What will I say when she questions me about it? The truth is safest, but what exactly is that?