Authors: Ava Claire
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Anthologies, #Contemporary, #New Adult & College, #Collections & Anthologies
I went to the liquor cabinet, opting for the bourbon. I filled my glass to the brim and brought it to my lips. Me, lamenting about the love of my life. A month ago that would have been laughable, but here I was.
There was no point in fighting it. Now was the time for drinking and regret. To get all the shit clouding my head locked down so I could do what needed to be done when Delilah strutted in, with more lies hot on her tongue. Thoughts of her reminded me of the repercussions of her actions.
I had no delusions of pleasantness when it came to the board meeting. They'd been trying to push me out, coaxing me to enjoy the fruits of my labor. They wanted me to hand the reins over and take a long vacation.
Our last merger got bad press after one of the long time employees of the acquired company sobbed about the dissolution of hometown values and having their history wiped away with a mere signature. It just made me want to work harder. But when I was blindsided by Delilah and her bloodthirsty fans, I decided that some time off to clear my head was warranted.
At the last board meeting, polite suggestions were no longer on the table. They sat down, looked me in the eye, and said they wanted to buy me out. I'd stared each one of them down and said I wasn't going anywhere. The bad press handed them the brass balls I didn't think they possessed. They brought up the fine print. If they could unanimously vote that my direction and leadership of the company had a negative impact on the company's brand and/or profits, they could have me replaced as CEO.
Before this Delilah bullshit, I could say with absolute certainty that Roman would never vote me out. But our talk before the meeting just confirmed the fact that I was under a lot of pressure. Instead of worrying about our business interests, I worried about the baby. If I was being honest, my head wasn't in the game. But that would all change after I got Delilah on record, admitting that she lied about the baby. I'd be vindicated.
Melissa's face flashed in my head, sadder than I’d ever seen it. Her eyes were liquid blue, lip trembling as she fought to keep it together. She told me I was better than this.
I wanted to believe I was better than this. I wished that I could just walk away. But in Delilah's lies, I saw every bully who'd ever seen me as an easy target until I fought back. I was older, richer, but the need to prove myself was just as strong. I wouldn't let some actress change my legacy. She didn't deserve to be let off the hook.
I put down the empty glass, refilling it and toasting no one in particular. I should get used to being alone after all. After Melissa, no one else would do.
As if she knew I was indescribably low and wanted to kick me while I was down, my cell drummed on the counter.
Delilah: We're downstairs!
"We're?" I muttered, rolling my eyes as I imagined some elaborate posse spilling out of the elevator. I told her this was an important conversation. The conversation that would tip the scales. She hadn’t always traveled in a pack. I had no patience for theatrical celebrities, playing it up like they were on camera at all times, and she knew that. So why would she—
My chest tightened. It was so obvious. Right in line with the perfect little family fantasy she'd concocted. She was referring to herself and the baby.
Any guilt that the alcohol had inspired evaporated.
Me: come on up.
I dropped the glass, my hand trembling. The urge to break something, to have that cathartic release, was overwhelming, but I used the time instead to camouflage the device that would capture the truth. It was the size of a penny and inconspicuous on a stack of folders on the countertop.
I shoved an angry hand through my hair as the elevator signaled the oncoming invasion. I made a point to avoid all reflective surfaces, not wanting anything to deter me from the end goal. I was so close to being free of Delilah and ending this whole charade.
But what does that freedom mean? What's the point if you become the person you said you'd never be again? What good was any of it without Melissa?
"Honey, I'm home!"
Delilah's high-pitched voice and poor attempt at a joke were like nails screeching across the chalkboard. It was hard to fathom a time when her mere presence didn't make me feel violently ill. I wasn't one to carry around regret. Regret was like a stone in your gut; a painful thing that did more harm than good. But one look at her face, watching her stroke her stomach with those bright green eyes that used to drive me wild, and I regretted ever laying my eyes upon her.
The brightness flickered as she stopped a few feet shy of the doorway. The magazine-ready smile was still glued to her face. I never gave her enough credit—she was a
actress. She did a bang up job convincing me that she was a human being.
The anger overwhelmed me when my eyes dropped to her stomach. Why was it that today was the day that I could actually make out the curve of the baby growing inside of her?
"How are you?" she chirped, her eyes trying to discern what was off. Me being cold and standoffish was nothing new for her, but she could sense there was something else.
I could play with her like she'd played with me, but I just wanted to be done with all of it. So I snatched away her leverage.
"I know, Delilah."
The smile twitched. The hand dropped to her side. I forced my eyes to stay locked on her face. I couldn't bear to look at her stomach and remember what I had lost.
When her face fell, I sighed with relief. I thought I'd have to force the truth out of her, but maybe she'd show some sign of decency and just come clean.
She sniffed, tucking her crimson bangs behind her ears. She looked me dead in the face with nothing but innocence in her emerald green eyes. "You know what, love?"
The anger in me was slowly becoming rage. I felt the heat of it searing the soles of my feet. The flames licked my legs. Fury scorched my belly. My heart was already ash. When I spoke, my voice was dark as brimstone. "You're really going to stand there, look me in my face after what you've done, and still lie to me?"
Her face narrowed in confusion as she eased forward. "Baby, I have no idea what you're-"
"Stop right there."
She froze, her eyes widening like she'd hit some invisible trip wire. The slightest movement on her part, and all hell would break loose.
She was caught.
The curtains fell. The show was over. I saw it in her face, the quivering of her lips as she struggled to find her next words.
"Let me explain," she eked out, crestfallen.
It took massive self-restraint to not reposition the stack of papers. Tell her to speak up so the whole world could see how psychotic she really was. Instead, I bided my time. Quietly rejoiced in my small victory...the game was over. "No more bullshit?"
She chewed on her bottom lip, color returning to her face. The color of shame. "No more bullshit."
"Just so we're on the same page," I growled. "What exactly are you explaining to me?"
She shuffled forward like a doomed woman taking her final steps toward her fate. "It's bad enough that you know, that you see-" She choked on the word and covered her face, drawing a sob-filled breath. "That you see what I've become."
If she was expecting pity or mercy, she was barking up the wrong tree. She could cry every tear she could muster, tear out her hair, fall to the floor wailing for my forgiveness, and she'd come up wanting. "This was no accident, Delilah. You made your bed, now lie in it—admit what you've done."
Tears turned her eyes to glass. It shattered as she looked down at her stomach, clutching it with both hands. "The baby's not yours."
"I didn't catch that," I seethed, glaring her down.
She snapped her head up, her eyes wild and crazed. Cheeks drenched, mouth open in a silent cry of pain.
"The baby's not yours!!!"
It was a screech that stabbed my ears. Cut out my heart. I turned my back to her, unwilling to let her see just how much it hurt. "But you went on national television and told the world I was the father. You screamed that I was the father to anyone that would listen. Logan Mason, billionaire playboy who wants nothing to do with his child, right?"
"Do you remember that little Vietnamese place near Golden Gate Park?"
I tilted my head in her direction, genuinely caught off guard. "What?"
She advanced, her steps hollow and heavy. "The hole in the wall with the sticky menus and the picnic tables indoors?"
My throat knotted, the breath I wasn't aware I was holding festering. My silence was my reply. Of course I remembered the place. Huge bowls of pho and piping hot tea. She'd talk about her past and with each return trip, each bowl, I'd get closer to telling her something about mine. But then the paparazzi got wind of us, and I realized that the girl who talked about growing up in a trailer and feeling so alone was just a shadow. A trick of the light.
She was right beside me, her voice low and pleading. "Please let me at least explain why. It's because I love you, Logan. I-I thought that if we had this baby, this one perfect thing that was ours, maybe you would love me, too." She gripped my arm, her touch filled with desperation. With a hope she had no right to feel. "I know I shouldn't have lied about the baby. I just wanted things to go back to the way they were."
It was almost sad. Heartbreaking, if I still had any pieces that I wanted to waste on her. There never was an us, or a ‘way they were’. She brushed the surface, but I never let her in. I never loved Delilah James.
I got what I wanted—the truth. I owed her nothing.
"This is where we part ways, Delilah. From this moment on, you don't exist to me." I ignored her gasp. The way she snatched her hand away like I'd just shot an electric current through her system. I didn't even want to see if the gravity of what she'd done had sunk in. I could feel her pain, and the only way to make her feel mine was to be silent. Pretend there wasn't a part of me that cared about her once.
The elevator sounded and I breathed in. Exhaled. I pushed a hand through my hair and tightened my tie. Vindicated, I strode to the counter and picked up the small disk, sliding it into my pocket.
All the noise in my head was finally silenced. The ache of what I lost was easier to bear.
And then I saw the white shirt of mine that Melissa wore, balled up in one of the chairs. I rooted myself in place, fighting the urge to bring the wrinkled thing to my nose and inhale her scent, to hold it in my arms and-
And what? I made my choice.
The proof of Delilah's lie burned a hole in my pocket.
I made the right choice.
Tit for tat.
But if this was right, why did I feel like I was holding a grenade?
ife without Logan was unbearable.
The seconds stretched into minutes that fell into days. When I finally looked at my calendar, I realized it had been a whole month since I'd even heard his voice. Inside, I was dying the slowest, most painful death. Death by heartbreak.
I went through the motions. I got up in the morning and made myself presentable; I did my job. I smiled. I pretended that every time my phone beeped or a new email landed in my inbox I wasn't praying that it was him. And every night when I curled up in bed alone, I fought the urge to reach out. What would it change? He chose revenge over me. He needed to hurt someone, more than he needed to start over with me.
He was willing to give me up.
And that was the thing that haunted me. He said he loved me. He'd been inside me, a part of me. He claimed me as his—and then he'd just tossed me aside.
I'd wanted Stacia to step up as the Logan Mason Sucks co-chair, but she declined the position. She encouraged me to reach out to him. She brought up his past, how desperately he must have wanted the baby, stress over work—but it was all irrelevant. What it all boiled down to was that we were done. Finished. He let me walk away.
I waited for the tone in the Delilah James baby watch stories to change. For whatever diabolical plan he had in store to come to fruition. But he was still the enemy. Sitting at the top of his multimillion-dollar building, strutting down the street to his company, living his life like he could care less about Delilah.
Like he could care less about me.
A big fat tear welled in my eye and slid down my cheek. I looked at my face, puffy and blotched, blonde tangles spilling over my shoulder. I snatched up my brush and went to work, yanking and tugging until I tamed my locks. I welcomed the jolts of pain, a pain that had nothing to do with my heart.
I whipped out my foundation and blush, attacking my cheeks and forehead until there was virtually no sign that I was falling apart. I lifted the sides of my mouth. This was an occasion for smiling, after all. Dad was having me over for dinner for the first time in almost a year.
I pulled on my blue cotton dress and slipped my feet into my brown sandals. I shut the lights off and tried to turn some happiness on—even though I knew this invitation was born out of worry. We'd been strictly business since I'd gotten back to Sacramento, just the way he liked it. I put on a grand show during business hours, smiled, gave killer pitches and impeccable presentations. I was the first one in the office and the last one to leave. And then last night Dad had poked his head in. He'd gruffly asked if I was free for dinner and I almost fell on the floor.
The drive to Arden Manor was swift and painless until I turned on Oak Drive. Panic gripped me as my car slowed to a crawl. I didn't know that I had it in me to walk through the door and pretend that I wasn't utterly broken. Shouldn't going home bring me some measure of peace? The calm in the storm, an escape from the rest of the world?
When he invited me over, I could have sworn I saw the slightest hint of concern in his eyes. There was a spark of hope in me that maybe he was worried, that he would finally be the father I needed. I stamped out the hope before I was infected. Hadn't I learned my lesson by now? How many times had he disappointed me? This was probably a celebratory dinner—not because I dodged a bullet with Logan, but because I was back at work, playing the role of dutiful daughter. It was the role I was born to play, after all. The only thing I had left.