Thin Line Between Love and Hate
Luca remains silent, sullen, and irritated the entire walk back to campus, but he mercifully releases my arm after we cross the street and he’s convinced I won’t bolt in another direction.
I have no desire to cooperate with Luca, but he has me at his mercy; my father can’t know where I’d been, or more importantly, who I’ve been with, and he holds the power to out me. Worse yet, if Luca investigates my boyfriend and then reports I’d been with Alexi Ivanov, I can’t begin to imagine the hell I’ll have to pay.
How am I going to convince him to keep this quiet? Burying his lifeless body certainly seems like a viable and satisfying solution to my problem.
Arriving at school, I break away from Luca’s side, thoughts swirling as I head toward my next class. I feel his hand against my arm again, pulling me from my homicidal thoughts.
“We have to get to class or we’ll be late,” I mutter. I can’t think of anything else to say, nothing else seems appropriate to break the awkward silence between us.
“Your place, now,” he mutters, and I’m about to ignore him and slip away, until I see the set expression of his face.
It’s my second last Business Management class before finals, but my marks are good enough that I can afford to miss the lecture.
Suddenly, I wonder why I even care. What does it matter if I get the marks my father expects of me? I don’t even want this degree to begin with, so why should I care about the outcome? It won’t change my future. Regardless of the outcome of my education, I am still marching steadily in the direction of my father’s plan for me to take over his business alongside Walter, like it or not.
I nod in agreement and follow him down the concrete path toward the busy sidewalk in the direction of my apartment just a block from campus. Having my own place in the city is one perk of having Dietrich money that I will never complain about.
We enter the secured building together, and Luca quietly follows me into the brightly lit elevator up to the tenth floor and down the hall into my apartment with a priceless view of the historic skyline. Luca releases a low whistle as he follows behind me. The unit has high ceilings, beautiful crown molding, and floor to ceiling windows. It’s a large open concept decorated with a neutral palate, including white and taupe furniture and walls, boring to be sure. The robin’s egg curtains that pool on the floor beside the windows and matching cushions on my couch are the only personal touches I’ve permitted in the space. I’ve been practical, knowing that my father will probably sell the place when school is over, and I’m forced to return to Miami.
I don’t need to make it feel more like home than it already does. In a few short weeks I’ll be losing not only the first man I’ve cared about in five years, but also the place that has come to feel like home. Although I’ve resisted forming attachments to my life in New York, it has a hold on my heart, no matter how fiercely I’ve tried to guard against it. This city will always be my home and Miami will forever be a poor substitute.
I drop my bag in the hallway and move toward the kitchen, hoping to start the discussion off on the right foot. “Can I get you a drink?” I ask, ducking my head into the large stainless fridge, hunting for my chilled vodka. It’s still early, but definitely five ’o’clock somewhere and I need a drink or three.
“I’ll have whatever you’re having,” Luca calls back to me as he drops himself onto my overstuffed white couch and props his monstrous, foul feet on my sparkling glass coffee table. Some things never change.
I pour two vodka sodas and though I can’t be bothered to add my usual lime, I do, however, add an extra couple fingers in my glass. I am really dreading this conversation.
Dropping into the chair beside him, I set his drink on the table and take a generous sip of my own. It’s strong, and I immediately appreciate the warmth that spreads through me.
“So, tell me about this Alex.”
It appears we’re getting right down to business.
“His name is Alex Johnston. We met at a campus event last semester and we’ve been friends for awhile. We’re just friends,” I answer, studying a speck of lint on the couch opposite my seat.
“Look at me,” Luca demands. I sigh and meet his hard green eyes.
“Try again, Lily. Who is he? And don’t give me anymore bullshit about him being your buddy. I saw how you looked at him. How you kissed him.”
Luca’s thick neck bulges red and his words are chopped and short. He looks furious and I haven’t the faintest idea why he seems to be taking this so personally. Maybe working for my father requires him to be even more of an insufferable asshole than he already is.
Holding back a witty retort, but releasing a sigh I say, “Alex is a major I met at a gallery a couple month ago. We’ve been seeing each other for a little while now. Please, Luca, just keep this between us. I go back to Miami in two weeks and there’s no need to involve my father.”
My eyes plead with him. Once in my life, I would have told you that Luca would always have my back, that he would always support me and would never betray me. As I sit before this stranger, I honestly have no idea if he will show me any small kindness.
“What about Walter? I thought you two are supposed to get married after school is done?”
I clench my fists - how dare he go there. “Does it really matter? What do you care about Walter or what my dad wants?” I can’t hold back my venom. He has a lot of nerve giving a commentary about my relationships.
“I don’t give a fuck about Walter! I give a fuck about you running around with this Ivanov kid who is going to get you killed. Either by his family or by your own father! Now, what the fuck are you thinking Lily?”
I suck in a breath. He knows.
I grab my drink and quickly gulp down the rest, place down my glass and drop my head into my hands as I try to assess the damage.
“Does he know?” I ask, finally meeting his blazing eyes.
“Of course, he doesn’t know. You’re here and the kid still has his dick attached, doesn’t he?”
Okay, so Luca hadn’t told my father. There’s still hope for me to keep the situation contained. He never has to know; I’ll be back home in two weeks like it never happened.
But then, my heart tugs at the thought. In two weeks, it will be like Alex and I had never happened. Like the last five months meant nothing. The thought brings immediate tears to my eyes that spill over my cheeks.
“Shit, Lily, don’t cry. I won’t tell him if you stop being an idiot, okay? Just tell the kid you’re not going to see him anymore and he never has to hear a thing.”
Luca’s voice holds an edge of ice. That’s what this is about. He’s going to steal the last two weeks Alex and I have together, just to spite me.
My heart aches and tears continue to fall at the thought of never seeing Alex again. A sob breaks from my chest and I jump from the chair, bringing my glass with me to the kitchen. I pour another drink, and this time I leave out the soda.
My voice rings out indignantly from the kitchen as my drink and I make a slow, frustrated return to the living room where Luca waits quietly.
“I have two weeks left and then I’m stuck with Walter and Dietrich Industries. Can’t you just let it go? Or do you still have the uncontrollable urge to fuck up my life?”
Luca looks stricken at my comment and hangs his head.
“Lily...I’ve never wanted to hurt you. This is just...”
“What, Luc? What is this? I’m finally happy and you just need to see me hurt? Is that it?”
Luca jumps up from the couch and suddenly pulls me into his arms. I struggle against him, not wanting to remember what it feels like, but my body betrays me, and I find myself sobbing into his chest. I should be punching him but I’m letting him comfort me. The world is a strange place.
“Lily, I’m sorry. I know you won’t believe me, but I only ever wanted you to be happy. I still do,” he whispers against my ear as he gently strokes my hair.
My heart rate increases at the feel of his strong arms around my body. It’s chemical, I can’t help it. My body doesn’t seem to remember that Luca is our enemy, that he’d used us, betrayed, and abandoned us.
“You have a damn fine way of showing it, Luc,” I mutter back.
He sighs against my ear, “Lily, there is so much you don’t know, so much...”
“Enough...just drop it. It’s in the past, we don’t need to go there again. What matters is now. What are you going to do about Alex?”
“I already told you, Princess. You need to cut it off – today. It’s too dangerous,” he answers, his voice softening.
“Fine, Luca. Just back off until I say my goodbyes at least. You can’t take that from me,” I answer softly.
I feel his body tense against me, and another sigh brushes my ear, gently ruffling my hair.
“Alright, but I supervise, okay? I’m not leaving you alone with this guy who could just be using you to get to your family. You thought of that, right?”
“Luca, he has as much to lose as I do. Neither of our families know...and that’s how its going to stay,” I answer, certain of the trust I’ve placed in Alex. But then, I’d been certain I could trust Luca, too. I sigh in frustration, now Luca has planted a seed of doubt in my mind and I want to whack him.
“I just need a night alone, to say our goodbyes,” I plead.
“Absolutely not. You will not be alone with him!” Luca grabs my biceps, jerking back from me. “Do I make myself clear Lily?”
What is his issue? I just want to say goodbye to Alex, and I don’t need an audience while it happens. It’s already going to be painful enough.
“Come on Luca, don’t you think you’ve already hurt me enough?” I ask him, this time sincerely.
His face falls as he quietly releases my arms and stalks off, headed toward the door of my apartment. “You’re not to be alone with him Lily,” he says firmly, and closes the door behind him as he walks out.
That’s right, Luca, hurt me and walk away. That’s what you’ve always done best.