Always the Last to Know

Chapter 42

Once I’d made sure I’d hit the correct button to sever the connection between me and my past, I let phone slip from my fingers, bouncing twice on the sofa cushion beside me before falling to the hard floor of the rotating platform with a loud clatter. I sat motionless for the longest time, the sound reverberating inside my head like gunfire. I was numb. I kept thinking that I should be doing something, setting things right, but my muscles weren’t getting the message.

What had I done? What the fuck had I done? Ruined my life several times over, that’s what I’d done. First I’d attempted to sabotage the best relationship I’d ever been in. When that backfired on me I’d run away to drink and ended up with some questions I’d been too afraid to ask. So I’d pushed that aside as best I could and tried to reconcile with Ranger. That worked pretty well, but then I’d gotten sick – morning sickness, I acknowledged in retrospect – and closely following that was the miscarriage that has pretty much tipped my world upside down.

I’d tried to do as I always did: Deny. I boarded the first rocket ship to denial land that my brain offered and I refused to come back. I made nice with my family. I assured the Merry Men and my friends that everything was fine. I even did a fairly convincing job of pretending everything was better than ever with Ranger.

But they weren’t.

The loss was eating at me, constantly clawing at the back of my mind to be acknowledged. I’d caged it up as best I could; shoved it into the darkest corner inside my head and my heart. If I started thinking about it I’d break down, and possibly never get back up again. In my life up until that point I’d displayed some steely determination, I’d proven my worth in some hard situations, but somehow with that one flip of the switch I’d come unstuck. It was all I could do to get out of bed in the morning, to put one foot in front of the other until I was out the door.

Once I was outside of my apartment it was easier to pretend nothing had changed. Everyone treated me the same. Well, except my mother. My decision to become more involved with my family, to turn up on time to family dinner, to make more careful decisions on the streets, to be a better person had my mother over the moon. In those six weeks, not once did I cause an uproar on the Burg grapevine. Slowly, the reasons for her to gripe at me over the weekly pot roast dwindled. Sure, I was still doing a job she didn’t approve of, but I appeared to be doing okay at it – with the help of the Merry Men – I wasn’t blowing things up left right and centre, and I appeared to be in a steady and stable relationship at last.

But I wasn’t.

There was so much wrong with my relationship. Ranger was so perfect. I was so... not. Take the night I got drunk for example. I know, and probably even knew back then, that I should have questions Morelli on the events of that night the moment I found the text. I should have face the music so much sooner. If I had, maybe I wouldn’t have been afraid to mention the miscarriage to Ranger. Maybe I could have let him help me through it. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad.

A gasp left throat as a sudden realisation hit me square in the chest. I’d been so focused on the fact that I should have done things differently six years ago, that I’d failed to acknowledge a major fact. The baby had been Ranger’s. Without a doubt.

“Fuck,” I whispered, jolting to my feet. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.” I started pacing, puzzle pieces falling into place.

I hadn’t slept with Morelli. There was no way the baby could have been his. That means that all the mental trauma I’d put myself through for six years because I was unsure was for nothing. Instead, I’d been confused about my relationship with Ranger and that confusion had clouded my decisions. I’d kept secrets and created the unbearable situation I’d mentioned to my parents that caused me to leave.

My pacing became agitated as my anger at myself rose, and I had to step off the platform before I fell off. Back and forth, back and forth I paced, a million alternate scenarios ran through my head. I’d seen them all before, of course. I’d played them all out in my head in great detail in those first few months in Mexico. And then again several times a year after that. The hard truth of the matter was, though, I’d never know what would have happened if I’d faced my problems, confirmed I hadn’t slept with Morelli and told Ranger about the miscarriage as soon as it happened. Now, with all this time between me and it, I could only imagine that the news that I’d lost his child six years ago and had never told him would not be well received. Even if he’d never wanted more kids, and might have been relieved at the near miss back then, with the distancing years, that relief could easily be skewed onto the disappointment/anger side of the page. He could hate me for keep it from him.

And before we could come to such volatile emotional conclusions, we first needed to be on the same page in terms of my identity.

Suddenly, exhaustion overcame me, a combination of the lack of sleep from last night and the thought of how screwed up my life was because of the stupid decisions I’d made six years ago. I a fit of self loathing, I threw myself onto the sofa, hoping the force of the landing would injure me in some way and I was forced to go to hospital and be put in a coma. Maybe by the time I healed I’d have regained some kind of sanity and would be able to conduct myself as a human being, with self respect.

No such injury occurred, but I did manage to hit my chin on an unnecessarily hard portion of the frame as the cushion was knocked to the floor. Wiping the tears from my eyes, unsure if they were because of the sudden pain in my face or the fact that my life was currently sitting at the bottom of a rubbish skip, I pushed myself up intending to drag the cushion back to its proper position and collapse face first onto it. Maybe a little suffocation would solve the situation. What I saw when I lifted my head, however, was the glossy white veneer of what could only be a refrigerator nestled neatly inside the frame of the sofa.

My natural human curiosity took over in that moment, everything else melting blissfully from my mind. I reached out slowly and lifted the lid, wondering what kind of things Hector would have in this room that he would need a concealed fridge. Does he have diabetes? He could keep a supply of insulin in there. That was logical. Or maybe he had a secret stash of body parts that he kept as souvenirs from his days on the streets. I hesitated a moment at that, sniffing back the snot that threatened to drip from my nose, but ultimately I grabbed the small handle and reefed it up.

My breath caught at the sight of the contents. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Stacked in perfect little piles were at least fifty little individual servings of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey. Heaven. All I needed now was a spoon. By chance, I glanced to the inside of the lid and had to praise the Lord who’s existence I had always been sceptical of. Spoons!

Without giving it a second thought, I grabbed one of the small shovels, and one of the cartons of ice cream immediately dug in.

By the time I’d reached the bottom of my second serving my thoughts had returned and I was hating myself again, which in turn made me consume more of the frozen goodness. So much was wrong I didn’t even know where to begin to set things right. I knew the individual things that needed to be rectified: the whole me being me thing, whatever was wrong with Hal, and of course, Ranger. A whole lot of Ranger... But fixing them was a whole other kettle of fish.

Before I knew it I was pacing again. My fifth Chunky Monkey in hand, spoon waving around aimlessly as I ranted to myself.

“If everyone had just left me alone like I asked,” I told myself. “None of this would have happened. I would have stayed in my little bubble. Sure, I never would have discovered the truth about the baby that never was, but I wouldn’t be in this infinitely more impossible situation where I was simultaneously me and not me. It was true, I hadn’t been ready to come back when Tank showed up, but then, would I ever have been? Probably not. I mean, look at what it took for me to finally ask the questions I needed to six years ago. Hell, Tank has done me a huge favour by bring me back. The alias thing not so much, but a few words could dispel that obstacle, right?”

I paused, scraping the bottom of the tub. That was it. I just needed to tell Ranger the truth. For better or worse, right? I needed to lay it all out there and just deal with whatever came of it.

“I’ll do it,” I said to myself, tossing the ice cream and spoon aside and reaching for the door I’d instinctively stopped beside. Every step I took once out in the hall speared more anger into my heart. Anger at myself for allowing this to happen. Anger at Ranger for not recognising me. Anger at the situation for just being.

I made it to the elevator just as the doors slid open and Tank and Lester stepped out. I tried to sidle around them into the box, but Tank put his arm out, catching me in the chest.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?” he asked, holding me in front of him as the doors slid shut once more.

“Ranger’s office,” I explained, my frustration transferring to the large black man. “I’m gonna give him a piece of my mind and set things straight.”

“You can’t,” Lester said, eyeing me carefully. “He’s in a meeting.”

“I don’t care.”

“You might if you knew who he’s with,” Tank said, never loosening his grip on me. “Ranger’s not gonna be in a good mood when they’re through. And you’re clearly not in the right frame of mind to be making big revelations.”

I shook my head. “Yes, I am.”

“Just last night you were telling me you weren’t ready to come back,” Tank pointed out, herding me to the stairwell and starting to ascend. “I suggest you take the rest of the day off to think through what you want right now. Calm down. That sort of thing.”

I stopped on the latest landing and shoved my fisted hands onto my hips, staring up, up, up into his face. “I thought you would have been happy that I was taking back control of my life,” I pointed out. “The sooner I come clean to Ranger the sooner we drop all the complicated and ridiculous acts I’ve had to maintain. Right?”

“Now is definitely not the right time,” Lester assured me.

“Hal is going to take you home,” Tank informed me in his no nonsense tone. “If you’re going to talk to anyone, it can be him.”

“But Hal isn’t -.”

“You find out what you needed to find out?” Lester asked, interrupting me, and I knew he was referring to the uncertainty with Morelli that I’d confessed to him days ago. I nodded that I had. “Then it’s time to talk to him. You don’t have to tell him everything if you don’t feel like it, but he needs some answers and so do you.”

Tank was looking between the two of us with the most confused expression I’d ever seen on his face. Before he could ask any questions, though, the door to the parking garage opened above us and Hal stepped up to the rail, looking down at us.

“Are we going or what?” he asked impatiently, glancing from Lester to Tank, but making a point to avoid my face entirely. I could tell that this was going to be a pleasant trip. Cue eye roll.

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