Then she asks, “How about you? Do you still feel anything for Celia?”
And the moment is ended.
I remember now that this reunion isn’t supposed to end like this. There’s more to say. More to explain. And this is where I have to begin.
I lean back to meet her eyes. “Alayna…I’ve never felt anything for Celia.”
“You mean, it was just sex?”
I shake my head. “I’ve never been with her at all.”
“She was lying.”
She’s not asking, but I confirm anyway. “She was lying.”
“That’s what I thought.” There’s no relief in her voice, and that makes me nervous. She pulls away from me, leaving me chilled. “But here’s the thing,” she says. “I sort of wish it were true.”
I know in my heart what she’s getting at. She’s figuring it out. She’s a smart woman, and the truth was always there, waiting for her to simply put it together.
I watch her as she does just that. “Not that you were sleeping with her while we were together—not that part. But the rest of it—that you were really with her when Stacy saw you. If that was the truth, I could accept it. Don’t get me wrong—the idea of you with her, f**king her—it torments me. It really does. But I think I always knew you were never with her. It’s in your eyes—both now and in that video.”
I swallow. “I wasn’t. I was never with her.”
“And that means that the thing with Stacy was a scam. Of course it was. I wanted to think it was just Celia in on it, and you were protecting her. But you said you weren’t, and you did go along enough to stage that kiss. You were part of it.”
If we could leave it here where she’s paused, I know we’d be fine. But we can’t. I promised her the truth. All of it. I’m just not sure if it’s better to let her proceed or to jump in with my confession.
Since I seem to have lost my ability to speak, it’s her that goes on. “I thought for a minute that might be your secret. Except it’s not it. I mean, yeah, that’s shitty that you did that to her, but I knew you had those things in your past. And you knew that I knew those things. If that were all there was to learn from that video, you would have told me. There had to be more you were hiding.”
It unfolds like a master detective solving the crime that has teased and taunted her, threatening to get the better of her, and then she finally gets the clue she needs to put it to rest.
Alayna raises her eyes to mine. “It’s because of what night it was, the night of the symposium, isn’t it? I considered that you didn’t want me to know that you were still manipulating people for fun that recently, but now I don’t think that’s all of it either.”
“Alayna…” It’s like watching a fragile object fall from a great height. A beautiful vase, perhaps. A crystal figurine. For a moment it feels like if I move fast enough, I can catch it before it shatters all over the floor. But I’m too far away. Time seems to slow, and every millisecond feels like an eternity.
She pieces together the secret that I’ve hidden from her, the truth of our beginning. And no matter how much I want to stop her, all I can do is watch her fall.
“It’s not the video itself. It’s what happened after.”
“Alayna,” I say again. It’s the only word I have. A prayer for strength. For me. For her.
“If Celia was there with you outside the symposium…then doesn’t it make sense that she went in with you? And if she went in with you, she was there when you first saw me. And if you were still playing people together…”
I can pinpoint the moment that she finally lets the truth sink in. Her face goes white, and her shoulders fall inward as if she’s been hit in the gut. Her anguish is palpable.
It’s unbearable. “I was going to tell you. I came back to tell you.” The words come now. The speeches I’ve prepared and rewritten in my mind over and over. Excuses that mean shit. “It’s my worst mistake, Alayna.” I step toward her. “The most horrible of all the things I’ve done. My biggest regret, although it’s what gave me you, and for that I’m forever grateful. But I never knew what I’d feel for you. I never knew that I could hurt you that much, and that I would care that I did. Please, Alayna, you have to understand.”
I’m desperate for her to hear me, but my voice seems to roll past her. She’s in her own nightmare, and I can’t get to her.
“That’s what I was, wasn’t I? A game. Your game. Together.” She collapses to the floor. “Oh God. Oh God, oh God.”
“Alayna—” I fall to my knees, reaching for her. I need her, need to fix her with my touch like I always do.
But she scrambles away. “Don’t touch me!”
Her scream pierces through me. I’ve never heard this depth of pain and revulsion in her tone. The weight of it matches my own pain, blurring my vision, causing my heart to race.
I refuse to stop fighting though. I have to reach her, somehow. If not with my touch, then my words will have to do. “It wasn’t what you think, Alayna. Yes, it started as a game. As Celia’s game. But I only went along because it was you. Because I was so enamored with you.”
She stares at me, blinking as if seeing me clearly for the first time. And isn’t she? Finally seeing the devil that I’ve been in disguise.
She bends over, dry heaving.
I understand. I’m just as disgusted with myself.
I’m desperate to help her, but afraid she’ll push me away again. “Alayna, let me—”
She puts her hand up to stop me from coming closer. “I don’t want your help.” She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. “I want f**king answers.”
“Anything. I told you I’d tell you anything.” Maybe if she heard all of it…maybe then she’d understand.
But as she asks her questions, and as I answer, I can hear the story the way she does. It’s awful. It’s ugly. It’s absolutely evil.
I beg her to let me try to explain it in my own words. The words that I’ve saved for this occasion. But they’re just as bad. Each new sentence seems to shatter her in a new way. And each new crack that rips through her echoes through me with lightning pain. Even as I plead with her, I don’t know what I’m asking for. For understanding? For love? For forgiveness?
I know I’ve lost my rights to all of these. It comes as no surprise when she declares in weighted, measured words, “This is unforgiveable, Hudson. There is no moving forward from this.”