Where in the world do I begin? There’s no good place, so I just start talking. “It may not come as any surprise to you, but it has become necessary to remove Celia Werner from my life.”
“No, really!” he gasps in mock astonishment. “Glad you’ve finally come around to see the light. That girl is f**ked up.”
It’s strange that there is still a part of me that wants to defend Celia. Except for her most recent actions, she’d done nothing worse than I’d ever done. And, as always, I can blame the way she behaves on me.
Stranger is that my father, who I would never describe as intuitive, seems to guess at my feelings. “She’s not like you, Hudson,” he says. “I know that you think she is, but she’s different. She wants to hurt people. You just want to understand them.”
I’m stunned at his insight, but I try to hide the shock from my voice. “You’re right. She’s not like me.” It’s a big admission, and I could spend more time trying to evaluate how I feel about this. But it doesn’t really matter. “Celia’s been stalking Alayna.”
“Fuck. Are you kidding me? Jesus.” He curses some more, things I can’t make out, then asks, “Is Laynie okay?”
I grit my teeth. “She is. A bit shaken, but I have a bodyguard on her. She’s safe.”
“Thank God.” My father’s always been fond of Alayna. It’s bothersome. Is his attraction to her fatherly or something else? Even if he came right out and told me, I’d likely have a hard time believing it.
But it’s because of his fondness for her, and because of his loathing for Celia, that I know he’ll help with my plan. “Celia hasn’t broken the law yet and talking to her has done no good. I need another way to convince her to stop her game.”
“And I’m sure you have an idea already in the works. Hit me with it.”
As succinctly as possible, I tell him how I’ve already convinced GlamPlay to buy into Werner Media, and how, if combined with the shares I already hold, it would be possible to own the majority stock in Warren’s company. “If I purchase GlamPlay—”
“Then you’ll be able to boot Warren out,” my father finishes.
“Right. I don’t want to actually take control of Werner Media, I just want to have the power to do so. And since I need it to be covert, I need to buy GlamPlay under a different entity.”
“You want to use Walden Inc.” My father catches on quickly. I shouldn’t be surprised. He was the one who taught me. “Of course. Tell me what to do, and it’s done.”
I spend the better part of the next hour working out the plan with Jack. He’s smarter than I remember, quick to solve problems that come up during the conversation. It’s…nice, actually. A bit like coming home.
Before we finish, another idea strikes me. “Anyone using the cabin this weekend?”
“In the Poconos? Not me. Mira’s the only one who goes up there really, and she’s so busy with her opening, she’s not going to want to leave town. Are you thinking about going up?”
“Yeah. I think I’ll take Alayna.” The stress of the past few weeks is taking its toll on me. On her too. We need some time alone.
“Good idea. Do you need a key? I can have mine couriered over.”
I have one somewhere, but rather than try to search for it, I take him up on the offer. “Thanks. I’d appreciate it. And Dad,” I pause, not sure how to say what else it is I want to say. Finally I settle on, “Thanks for everything else too.”
After I hang up, I stare at the phone for several long minutes. After the years of tension and resentment between us, I wonder, did we just reconcile? God, is there nothing that Alayna won’t have a finger on in my life? I’m not complaining.
With Celia shit handled for the moment, thoughts return to the other major weight on my mind—Stacy. I’d had Jordan find her contact information first thing on the day after I learned about the video. Then I emailed her. And called. When she didn’t respond, I emailed and called again. Every day. My messages were, well, threatening. Finally, yesterday, she sent me the video.
Today, I’m still processing what to do with it.
I turn to my computer and open the file. I’ve watched it several times now, but I’m compelled to watch it again. It’s both worse and better than I thought it might be. It’s not exact footage of my conversations with Celia regarding Alayna, for instance. But what it does show is also damning if a person put together the pieces.
I try to see it the way Alayna would. First, she’d be hurt. It’s me kissing Celia. I wouldn’t want to watch her kiss another man, and if it were someone I knew she had a history with—David, for example—it would be so much worse. So there’s one reason why she should never see the video.
After that, she’d want to know why I was kissing Celia. I’d always said I was never in a romantic relationship with her. I wasn’t. I could say that I lied before, that Celia and I actually did have a fling. But I’ve never been a fan of lies, and that’s what it would be. If I told her the truth, that I was helping Celia with a scam, then Alayna will think I was still playing then. Even if she understands that I truly wasn’t, she won’t miss that the video takes place outside the symposium where I first saw her. She’ll know Celia was with me that night.
How far of a leap would it be for her to go from Celia and me at the symposium to Celia and me playing a game with her?
Again, it’s paranoid. But I would leap to that conclusion. I’m more analytical, sure. Still, Alayna’s smart. I wouldn’t put it past her. And that’s just a risk I can’t take.
Alayna can never see this video. Whatever I have to do, I’ll have to convince Stacy to get rid of it. It has to be destroyed.
The bar at Lester’s is much different than the type I usually frequent. There’s a pool table and darts in the back corner. The patrons wear jeans. I’m the only one in a suit, let alone a suit that probably costs the entire amount that the register will take in tonight. The music blares from an old jukebox—hits from the nineties that seem familiar. I’d prefer a live band. Jazz or a piano player would be nice. But I’m not here for the ambiance. Lester’s fulfills the two requirements I have at the moment—they have a good bottle of Scotch, and it’s only half a block away from the loft. I’ll be drunk when I leave here. Hopefully, the short distance will ensure that I pass out on my own property.