Hudson (Page 70)

Hudson (Fixed #4)(70)
Author: Laurelin Paige

Inside my apartment, I find she’s not alone. My parents are there as well, and a man that I recognize from pictures in Alayna’s file as her brother. I suddenly wish I’d tried to contact Alayna on my way home. Has she been hurt? Has there been an accident? Is that why everyone’s here, to tell me something I don’t want to hear? Something I can’t hear?

I’m on edge now, but I hide it.

I hold a hand out to the stranger. “Hudson Pierce.”

“Brian Withers.” His shake is firm enough, but I can’t help resenting him for the troubles he’s given Alayna. “Good to finally meet you.”

“You as well. Though you’ll pardon me for not being privy to the circumstances in which we’re gathered.” I direct this last comment to Celia. She’s the one who holds the answers.

“I was just getting to that, Hudson. Why don’t you sit down?” Her voice is heavy, as though she’s a doctor about to deliver a terminal diagnosis.

It’s unnerving, and again I’m struck with a cold bolt of fear. Please, God, let Alayna be okay.

Then I remind myself that though she sounds sincere, I’ve heard Celia use that tone many times when she’s not. So I remain wary. “I’ll stand.”

“Whichever you prefer.”

“I prefer you explain what’s going on.” There’s an edge to my words that I recognize as completely unwarranted. Celia had surprised me when she declared her support of me and Alayna, but I didn’t doubt her earnestness. Why am I so ready then to battle her now?

It’s because I’d rather a battle than any other news she could give me. I’d rather fight her than find I have no reason left to fight.

“Calm down, Hudson.” My mother is the last person who can calm me. Her presence alone is a distress. “Pour yourself a drink.”

“Of course that would be your solution,” my father mutters.

It’s the usual banter of my family. Normally, I would echo the sentiment. Right now I only want to hear what Celia has to say.

She senses I’m losing my patience and clears her throat, preparing to deliver what I can’t help but assume is a show. “There’s no other way to say this except to just come out and say it. Alayna has been…well, she’s been harassing me.”

I’m instantly relieved. She’s okay. There’s been no accident. No body waiting to be identified in a morgue.

But the respite is short-lived as a new storm of emotions overtakes me.

“Not just harassment,” Celia clarifies. “She’s been—I hate to use the word, but it’s the one that fits—stalking me. Calling me. Following me.”

“Stalking you, Celia?” I’m incredulous. Alayna knows not to spend time with Celia. She wouldn’t break that vow, would she?

“Stalking, Hudson,” she confirms.

Brian pinches the bridge of his nose. “Not this again.”

I want to punch him. Because even if I didn’t know to question the source of the accusation, I would not jump to believe anything spoken against Alayna.

But more than that, I want to punch Celia. I realize now why she’s included my family here. It’s the only way she can say these lies and stand a chance of being heard. “This is bullshit. Get the f**k out.”

“Hold on, Hudson.” Celia crosses to me. “Before you decide not to believe me, listen to what I have to say. I have proof.”

She hands me a stack of papers. I consider tossing them to the ground, but there are other people in the room. Throwing a tantrum will not win them to my side. My eye twitches, but I focus on the page on top. It’s a call log. Celia’s, to be precise. Several phone calls have been made to her from the same number. Alayna’s number.

“This proves nothing.” Celia must have stolen her phone somehow. Or paid someone to use it. Maybe someone at the club? I shove the papers back at her.

She doesn’t take them, ignoring them to answer the ding on her phone. My mother grabs the log out of my hand instead. She can have them.

“And look at this,” Celia says, turning her phone toward me.

On her screen is an image that seems to have been sent by text. The woman in the picture has her back to the camera, but it’s clearly Alayna.

“This is at the job site where I’ve been working this week. Fit Nation. She’s shown up there so many times to bother me that I asked the front desk guy to document it the next time she came in. This is from today, Hudson. Twenty minutes ago.”

I shake my head. “This is ridiculous.”

“You just don’t want to hear it.” She returns her phone to her slack pockets.

I get it now. I see her angle. She never meant the kind words of support she delivered at the restaurant. She meant to throw me off guard. It’s the next play in her game.

It doesn’t surprise me, but it stings. I’d wanted to believe that we shared something beyond the hateful schemes we concocted. I’d wanted to think that she actually…cared…for me. The way that I suspected that I cared for her.

No more. The blinders are off. If we’re meant to be foes, so be it.

I step toward her. We’re face-to-face now. Close enough that she can see I’m serious when I say, “Drop it, Celia. Let this go.” There’s no mistaking that this is a threat. She may hold things over me, but she can’t forget that I hold things over her as well.

She doesn’t back down. “There’s more. Besides the calls, Alayna’s shown up at restaurants while I was dining, left messages with my office, followed me on the street.”

“It’s a bunch of goddamned lies.” I narrow my eyes, accusing. “This is what you wanted to happen, and when it didn’t, you made it up.”

“I didn’t want it to happen, Hudson.” Celia leans in so that I’m the only one who can hear her. “Not anymore.”

Her expression is not only genuine but desperate. It’s not a look I’ve seen before on her. She can be cold, calculating, but this…this is different. Why does she care so much that I believe her? She can cause her trouble without me. She’s never cared if we were on the same side. So why this time?

My conviction wavers.

What if she’s telling the truth? I’m fully aware of how “proof” can be fabricated. I’m also aware of how past addictions can call to you. How easy it is to fall into old patterns. Has Alayna really fallen off the wagon, so to say? We pushed her toward this. Did we achieve our goal?