I was just finishing my shift at the hotel – the usual player was still sick – I played the piano at when I noticed someone coming into the room. Glancing sideways as I hit the last not of the piece, I saw, for my surprise, Liam. He stood there, hands in the pockets of his jeans, and his permanent scowl on his face. He could’ve been much more good looking if he could just stop making faces.
After I left the piano, I walked toward him, assuming he came for me. I was not wrong. His first words as I stopped before him were, “Let’s go outside.”
Deciding to obey like a good doggy, I followed him out of the indoors to a grand balcony viewing the sea. There, he grabbed a seat and I placed myself in front of him.
Before I could ask what he wanted, he cut right to the chase. “I’ve heard from Holden you’re officially seeing each other.”
Figuring he would want to talk to me about Wayne, I shrugged. “So?”
He glared at me, but then clenched his jaw and looked away, toward the sea. “He told me to be nice to you. This is me trying to be nice.”
“We barely spoke for a minute now,” I pointed out, and then grinned a little. “Although it is refreshing not having you barking me first thing.”
He narrowed his eyes but still refused to at least look at me. “I still think you’re not right for him, and I still think you’ll end up destroying him like Ford predicted,” he said tightly, “but despite how much I care about him, he’s a grown man, older than me too, and he can make his own damn decisions.”
I cocked my head as I watched the profile of his face. Something had just occurred to me, and I decided that his bluntness deserved my own. Not that I knew how to be anything else, but that’s besides the point. “Are you in love with him?”
He shot me an odd look. “I don’t know if ‘in love’ is the right term. Do I love him? Yes. Of course I do. He saved me.”
Surprised at his sudden openness, I leaned my elbows on the table and my chin on my hands and stared at him curiously. “How did he save you exactly?”
His eyes flashed, and then he gave me a smile that was enough mean to make me freeze. “Holden has a habit of taking lost souls, people who’re hurt, almost irrevocably so, and try to heal them with his own unique ways. He’s his own very specific version of psychopath; he likes taking broken things and make them whole again. He did it to me, and now he’s doing it to you.”
That was something I didn’t think about before, but now made sense. Wayne might’ve said he had no skeletons in the closet, but something about him was surely amiss if he felt the need to do that to complete strangers like me. “So why are you so angry that he’s trying to help me when he’s done the same to you?” I inquired, arching an eyebrow. “Is it only because of what my stupid family told you? Are you that much of a judgmental ass?”
Lips pursed, his smile disappeared. “It’s because he’s never actually got involved with someone who needs fixing, never with someone so fundamentally broken.”
“Or maybe you’re simply jealous,” I shrugged. “I might not know the circumstances of how he helped you, but now that he moved on to a new project, you feel all left behind.”
“Don’t condescend to me, bitch,” he spat, his eyes blazing angrily all of a sudden. “You have no idea how I feel. Not the slightest idea.”
“Oh, and do you know how I feel?” this time I was beginning to get annoyed with him. “Hypocrisy doesn’t look well on you, Liam.”
His hand clenched into a fist on the table. “You and I are different.”
“How so?” I challenged, leaning forward and giving him my own version of pissy face. “You judge me before you even know me, threaten me to stay away from Holden, and then gets mad when I supposedly judge you? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“You’re an unfeeling sociopath,” he spat, voice rising, “you have no morals, no respect, nothing at all. You don’t understand people and you sure as fuck don’t understand either me or Holden. You know why I judge you?” He leaned closer as well, his nose almost touching mine. “Because you have no fucking idea how much of a lucky bitch you are to have Holden all for yourself, in all aspects and regards. He’s everything someone could hope for. Everything. And you take it for granted. That’s just emphasizing everything I’ve been told and more.”
I stood up. “You know nothing, Liam,” I told him, no longer irritated. I understood now what he was implying. There was no point in me getting all mad. “You don’t know how my family abandoned me when I needed them the most. You don’t know what it’s like to be truly alone in this world, when only Holden seems to be actually noticing me and fighting for me. I don’t take him for granted.” I stared him dead in the eye. “But it seems like you did, and now that I have him, you finally realized how much he truly meant to you.”
There was no need to speak anymore. I left him on the balcony and headed home.
* * *
I looked at Emma and Ford’s house and inhaled the nicotine deeply. It’d been a while since I last smoked, and it seemed fitting now. There was dinner party ahead of me, where all of the family members of both my sister and her fiance were going to attend. It was a big deal and of course I had to come or else.
But Wayne was going to be there, so I felt less disgusted by the predicament.
When I rang the door bell, Emma opened. She gave me a disapproving look before she moved aside. “Come in, Blair.”
“Thank you, You Grace,” I muttered dryly as I stepped inside.
Her pretty face were marred by a scowl. “We already started dinning. You’re late.”
“And you’re being extra perky today,” I shot her a look. I didn’t particularly cared about her mood, but It seemed like she was hell-bent on using me to get over them. That, I would not allow.
She was suddenly in front of me, grabbing my upper arms with her hands. Her hold was unusually strong for someone who had chopsticks arms. I guess her daily training at the gym actually did something. “Listen, Blair,” she said, voice low and eyes piercing, “two years ago I believed that Darren had been in the wrong, and even if I didn’t express it as much as you would’ve liked me to, I was still on your side. But this? This I can’t morally be by your side anymore.”
I understood then and my skin chilled by a few degrees. “You seek to protect Holden too.”
“You’re damaged goods, Blair,” she hissed, giving me a tortured gaze I didn’t buy for shit. “Darren made a huge number on you by what he did, and you’ve always been different, not exactly right in the head, maybe even, to some degree, autistic. Holden doesn’t need this shit in his life.”
As I looked at her talking on ad on, basically saying everything Liam did only in a gentler, more logical kind of way, I tried to understand if all older sisters out there behaved like Emma to me, and I knew it mustn’t be the truth. Some sisters actually believed in their siblings. Not Emma, but others.
“What Holden and I are doing is none of your business,” I told her, cooling my voice and chilling my gaze. “You’re no sister of mine, Emma. You tried to be two years ago and failed. You don’t even bother to try now. I hope you’ll think about it when you go to sleep tonight.” I shook off her hands from me and moved closer so we were toe to toe. I stared her down before I said again, lowly this time, “Stay away from me or I’ll be forced to get mean. And get your future husband out of the way, too. Him spreading rumors about me to every male friend he has like I’m a contagious whore is not all right, and certainly just as much as un-brotherly thing to do. Go fuck yourself.”
I moved passed her toward the dinning room and there entered as discretely as I could. I greeted my father and Scarlet, Roman and Rosalyn, who seemed to be in the middle of a fight, and saw there was an empty seat next to Wayne, who was grinning at me, the only familiar face among these strangers, the only honest one, the only one who actually welcomed me. On the other side of him sat Liam, and while he was looking at me much like everyone else, he did give me a nod of acknowledgment, even though it seemed to pain him to do so. I decided to grace him with one as well. We were grown-ups, after all.
Settling myself next to Wayne, he didn’t waste time; he put on arm on the back of my chair possessively, while giving me a soft peck on the lips. I felt engulfed in his heat, being seated so close as I was, and for the first time in what felt like forever, I felt safe. Warm.
I felt like I was home.
But home was only in his arms, and that was just fucked up. Why couldn’t I feel like I was home with my family all these years? Why did they practically shun me after everything with Darren and that awful day afterwards? My dad had accused me of not being a good lover, a good girlfriend, to Darren. He said I deserved what I got, because I was exactly like my mother; an ungrateful bitch.
No one helped me when he slapped me, right there, in front of our entire family. I can remember it still; Scarlet checking her nail polish, as if her husband beating up his daughter was nothing out of the ordinary; Roman watching, arms folded, with almost mechanic calculation as my father kicked my ribs; Rosalyn giggling hysterically and rooting for my father, calling me scum; Emma and Ford both staring with eyes wide, yet neither say anything, despite the fact both of them knew who was truly in the wrong there.
They said nothing. The only good thing they did was call the ambulance when my father ran out of steam. And even then, no one accompanied me to the hospital. No one visited me for the two weeks I was hospitalized because I’d been beaten up so badly.
Only by the end, my father came. I had just signed the discharging files when he came, face emotionless, and threw me a black elite credit card. He said nothing. He simply gave me the card and left. The credit card was connected to a temporary bank account which had “only” two million dollars. That was his way to compensate to the fact he abused me and humiliated me even more than Darren had ever done.
I’d thrown the credit card to the garbage after tearing it up to small pieces.
I’d been avoiding thinking about it directly until today, but something inside me broke. I didn’t know what it was, exactly, or why it happened now, specifically, in this dinner party of all places. Maybe because with Wayne I felt, for the first time in my life, wanted and protected. Maybe because Wayne opened my eyes to many things about myself and the world around me. And maybe because I was finally sick and tired of being treated like shit.
I wanted nothing to do with this wedding anymore. I wanted nothing to do with this family anymore.
Glancing up at Wayne, I saw him smiling to himself, yet not engaged in any conversation. He wanted to stay quiet with me, I could see. He didn’t want to talk.
Maybe, then, he wouldn’t reject my offer.
“Wayne,” I whispered to him, and he glanced down at me. I didn’t know what kind of expression was on my face, but whatever it was, it appeared it wasn’t my usual indifferent one because Wayne tensed and tugged me closer with an arm around my waist, face contorting in worry. “Can we get out of here?”
Stilling, his eyes evidently tried to decipher mine. “What’s changed?” he asked. Even though we knew each other not for so long, it felt like we’d been together all our life, he knew me so well.
“I... I don’t know,” I told him honestly, and suddenly my vision blurred. Then I realized my eyes were wet. “I... I simply remembered what happened to years ago and I... I can’t be here.”
“Cleo,” he whispered, and I could hear the wonder in his voice. He’d never seen me like that. I barely remembered where had been the last time I was like this.
Suddenly he rose from his seat and grabbed my hand, making me rise with him. Tucking my head to his chest, concealing my suddenly teary eyes from the audience, he said, “Something came up. We’re leaving.”
“Holden, what – “ Liam started, voice a little panicky for some reason, but Wayne was not listening. He took me out of the dinning room, out of this house, and next thing we were in the car, on our way to my apartment.
The drive was silent. As silent as the tears that streamed down my face.