I shake my head at myself. Me, turning to liquor for comfort. It’s quite comical. To think that only yesterday I was curled up with Alayna in the mountains, making love under the stars, flirting with the topic of marriage. Tonight, I’m here. What a difference a day makes.
I’d known something was wrong the moment I’d walked into the penthouse. I found her outside on the balcony. Drunk. Ha. She’d chosen the bottle as her friend as well. I hadn’t realized the irony until right this moment, when I’ve just ordered my third this hour. We’re so alike, she and I. And so different. She’s made mistakes with us, but I fully believe hers have been with the best of intentions. I can defend my own evil ways—and I will if it comes to it—yet my excuses really hold no weight. How could I ever explain such a level of deceit?
I don’t have the answer. That’s why I’m sitting here, alone, in this f**king bar. I don’t have the answers.
She saw the video.
I have to say it over and over to remind myself that it’s not just a nightmare of what might happen, but is the actual fact of the matter now. She’s seen it. And worse, she knows the lengths I went to in order for her not to see it. I’d practically bribed Stacy to get rid of it. I’d lied to Alayna. Outright lied. I thought I’d covered my ass, that she’d never find out. I was wrong.
God, was I wrong…
So I was unprepared.
I’m usually good on my feet. Preparation isn’t mandatory. But I had no words for Alayna. Snippets of our conversation replays over and over in my mind. Looks can be deceiving, I told her. I’m not admitting anything. You haven’t figured out anything.
Fuck, I’m such an ass**le. What else could I have said? Nothing. I have no answers, I said. The subject is closed.
And then…Jesus, I cringe at the memory of this…I blamed her for the lack of trust. Did I mention I’m an ass**le? Worse than that. I’m a horrible person. Willing to throw her under the bus to hide what I’ve done to us. What I’m still doing to us.
The bartender checks on me. I gulp the last of my glass. “Another,” I say.
I stare dazedly into the mirror behind the bottles. The reflection that meets me looks like f**king death. What does Alayna even see in me? How does she not see me for the vile creature that I am? I don’t blame her for pushing me further tonight. I would have pushed her if the roles were reversed. Because it’s evident that I’m hiding something. I’m hiding everything. I can’t even tell her how I feel about her because it’s all tangled up in this lie. I’m drowning in this charade, and I don’t know how to get a breath.
I did the only thing I could do. I called a timeout.
A f**king timeout.
What am I supposed to do with that? Do I believe that hours away from her will help me come up with a bigger and better lie? Do I think it will give me the balls to come clean about everything? Or am I hoping that the break will make her forget all her questions? I laugh out loud at the absurdity.
The question comes from the woman on the stool to my right. I hadn’t noticed her come in. I barely notice her now. “An inside joke,” I say, dismissively. Which is stupid. I know that engaging at all, even at a minimum, only encourages more conversation.
I’m correct in my assumption.
“Tell me about it, sugar. Lola’s got a good ear.”
She refers to herself in third person. I roll my eyes.
“Come on, honey. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t want to talk to someone.”
I snort—the alcohol is definitely taking effect. “I’m here because I want to get loaded.”
“But that’s not all. Otherwise, you’d be drinking alone somewhere.”
I look her over now. She’s older than me, forties, I’d guess. Not bad looking. Her hair, nails and boobs are fake. Her skirt is too short, but she has nice legs.
The bartender returns with my drink, and Lola places her own order. I can tell she’s hoping I’ll offer to buy it for her. I consider it. Not because I’m thinking of hooking up with her—even if she were the hottest supermodel, I wouldn’t bang her. I’m with Alayna. Even with a timeout, I’d never be unfaithful. Besides, no one else does it for me anymore. The only woman I’ll get hard for I left in tears in my penthouse apartment. I broke her f**king heart. When I promised myself I never would. When I told her that I’d never leave. I left.
I feel like shit. And that’s why I consider buying Lola a drink. She’s open, trusting—she’d be easily played. The things I could make her believe, the things I could make her do…a million different scenarios start forming in my mind.
Then they stop.
The game won’t solve anything. It will be a quick high and then what? Then I’ll be even less worthy of Alayna than I am now. I can’t fight my demons with my demons. It’s not the solution I’m looking for.
So I swallow down my drink and close out my tab.
I stagger back to the loft and spread out on the couch. I don’t let myself sleep in my bed. I don’t deserve to be comfortable. I don’t deserve to be where she’s been. I don’t deserve her.
I wake the next day with a dry mouth and a f**king headache. It’s an instant reminder of the miserable situation I’ve put myself in. After texting my secretary to reschedule all my appointments for the day, I allow myself a glass of water, but I don’t take any pain relievers. I earned this discomfort, and I won’t back away from it.
When my phone buzzes, I check it immediately, hoping it’s Alayna. It’s not, and I pretend I’m not disappointed. It’s important though—a text from Norma asking me to call her. She knows not to text me anything incriminating. She also knows to be careful about her phone calls. If she’s texting, she needs me.
She doesn’t even say hello when I ring her. “You aren’t in your office.”
“No. I’m working from my loft today.” I look and feel like shit. I shouldn’t see people. “What do you need?”
“Stuart Reed’s having doubts.”
Stuart’s our man at GlamPlay. I don’t need this. Not today. “Did you explain to him that Walden Inc. is still me?”
“He’s not having doubts about that. They’re ready to sell to you no matter which company you’re purchasing with. He’s having doubts about buying into Werner Media. Their latest stock prices weren’t as high as predicted.”