“Why would Celia make it up?” My mother, ever the clueless, pipes up from her place on the couch.
I could school her on that, but it would break every rule of the game. Or has Celia already broken every rule by making up this entire scheme? I’m suddenly uncertain of everything.
“Because that’s what she does.” Jack’s snide remark reminds me that he too has been played by Celia. He’d been old enough to know better when she’d shown up on the doorstep of the guest house, but she was manipulative enough to fool even the wise. “Ah, and many of these questions can now be settled because the subject at hand has arrived.”
In sync, every eye in the room turns toward the newest occupant.
“What’s going on?” she asks, her gaze pierced on me.
“Alayna—” God, I wish I could steal her from this moment. It’s going to be a bloodbath, and all of it, whether there’s any truth to Celia’s accusations or not—am I really considering that there is?—all of it has come about because of me.
I wanted to protect her. I thought I had succeeded. I was wrong.
The room is abuzz around me as Alayna is brought up to speed. I don’t hear most of it, lost in my own battle. The urge to dwell on my fault in this scene is overwhelming. I try to deny it, but it freezes me. Coupled with the desperate plea from Celia, I’m reminded that there is more to this than simply believing her or not. How I choose to handle this will have repercussions. Repercussions for all of us.
I want to dismiss everything Celia’s claimed. It would be the easy thing, to cross the room and stand by the woman I love. But will that be the right decision? I’d have to explain why I think that Celia is lying. How far can I answer that without exposing the game? Without acknowledging my own part in it? And if I am able to save myself from blame, will Celia point the finger at me instead?
As Alayna defends herself, I realize a worse truth—she’s broken her promise. She was seeing Celia behind my back. She’s lied to me, and it’s not the first time. She kept her past relationship with David a secret that I only just recently worked out. Then her ex who had saddled her with a restraining order, reentered her life, and she kept me in the dark there as well.
Now I find that she was seeing Celia covertly on top of all that—what does that mean for our relationship? Can I stand by her when she’s so unwilling to stand by me?
Yes. I can. I will.
But can I so easily assume that Alayna has betrayed me? Perhaps she hasn’t at all. Maybe all of Celia’s claims are true, and I’m ignoring the bigger picture, the mental illness that resides in her. It isn’t what I want to face, particularly when I’m aware that if she’s fallen into old habits, it’s my fault. Yet, if she has—I’ll do anything to help her. Anything to keep her sane and with me. She has to know that I’m on her side.
So which is it? I’m with her no matter how she needs me, but which way is that?
Celia rests a hand on my arm, pulling me back to the present conversation. “I told you that night, remember?”
What night are they talking about? I replay the last few seconds of conversation in my head. There was something about my mother’s birthday. What had she told me that night?
Oh yes. Celia had said that Alayna had harassed her then. Had that been an early sign that I’d ignored?
I pull my arm away from her. “I don’t need a reminder.”
“He refused to believe me then too,” Celia tells the room.
I hadn’t refused. I’d chosen to believe the harassment was born of a different cause. Is this twisting of the truth evidence that Celia’s fabricated it all?
“He’s blinded by the sex. It’s not real.” My mother’s snips don’t faze me. She’s irrelevant in this situation.
“She told you I harassed her?”
I feel her try to meet my eyes, but I keep them pinned on the floor. She’ll too easily be able to read me. She’ll see the war I’m waging, and she’ll misunderstand what I’m battling. She sees this as Celia versus her. She’s waiting for me to choose sides. There’s only one side—Alayna’s. I just can’t figure out the best way to fight for her.
“Why didn’t you say anything to me, Hudson?” Her voice is pleading.
Why didn’t you say anything to me? I ask silently. One thing I can say for sure—the two of us have to work on our communication. I’ve blamed myself for the gaps in our connection, assuming I’ve had the bulk of secrets between the two of us, but now I’m learning she has secrets too.
More accusations fly, more heated words. Celia brings up Paul. The fact that she knows about Alayna’s recent interaction with her ex is another detail that baffles me. Does Celia know because she’s been tailing her? Or because Alayna told her? And if the latter is the case, I’m again struck with the knowledge that Alayna left me in the dark while letting others in.
Honestly, if it’s because she’s sick again, it will feel like less of a betrayal.
I turn away, hoping to shut it all out while I work through the facts. But tempers in the room rise, and soon I find I’m unable to zone out the conversation any longer.
“Do you hear her, Hudson?” my mother says behind me. “She threatened Celia. In front of everyone.” She isn’t helping.
“Mother, stay out of this.”
“Hudson, you have to get rid of her. She’s dangerous. Celia tells me she has a record. Why on earth would you let her into your life when you knew these things about her?”
I won’t hear this. “Shut up, Mother.”
I spin around and brush past Celia and Sophia, stopping in the center of the room to finally meet Alayna’s eyes. Though I’m torn and uncertain, there is one truth that does not waver—I am in love with Alayna Withers. I will do anything for her. She is my light, and I will fight like hell to keep her from my darkness. Whatever that takes.
I tell her this silently through my stare, and I feel her acknowledgment pass back to me. She knows. She has to know that I’m here for her.
I’m barely aware as my mother prattles on behind me. “It makes sense why she’d be obsessed with Celia. She knows you belong together, Hudson, and she’s jealous. Celia was pregnant with your baby. She can’t compete with that, no matter—”
“Aw, shut the f**k up, Sophia,” my father cuts her off. “It wasn’t even Hudson’s baby. It was mine, you ignorant bitch.”