The smile fell from her face when she opened the door and saw me, her gaze sweeping over my face, and I didn't know what she saw, but she staggered back a little.
And that was the moment tears burned my throat, choked me until all I could do was let it out, a painful sob that had been building inside me, as I launched my arms around Beth's neck, grabbing her in such a stronghold and clinging to her like she was my lifeline.
I felt her own arms wrapped around my waist and I continued to cling onto her desperately, my sobs coming out in chokes and gasps like I was trying to breathe but couldn't.
The pain that I had buried for years resurfaced in full force, and I sobbed for all those times I saw dad crying over mum in the middle of the night when he thought I was sleeping. All those times I came home running because some girls said bad things about mum and I fought them, regretting ever defending her, ever wishing she would come back into my life. I sobbed for those wishful moments, for my dad who would hurt more than I was hurt, to find that she had remarried. Left us for someone richer.
I also sobbed for this foolish, aching heart—the love I felt for the man who had no trouble, who hadn't thought twice before hurting me and betraying me. My disappointment was beyond measure, my heartbreak inconceivable. Every single moment spent with him was tarnished, those tender moments I had glimpsed into was nothing now, all a buildup for that moment, that moment when he would remind me that he was still the same man that everyone knew.
That nothing mattered except him. His wants and needs.
All my hopes for a happy life with him–a life where I would wake up and he loved me, a good relationship built on love and trust were crushed. He wasn't the man I believed him to be. He had roped me into these fantasies that there was something good inside him that only I got to see and I had put too much faith in him, in his ability to change the way he perceived women and treated people.
His smile, his laugh, his teases and tender moments—all of it was a mask he wore. He had deluded my dad and friends, just as he had deluded me.
Someone once said love and attraction could blind someone. They were correct on that point. Every time I remembered him, my heart broke all over again. Every second that I took in Beth's arms, I remembered how easy it was for him to let me go.
I didn't hide anything from Beth. Sitting on her bed, I relayed everything that happened with Mason and I watched her cry with me. She didn't yell at me for walking away from him. As a matter of fact, she was ecstatic that I wasn't going to live with him anymore because someone who couldn't understand the pain Ginny had left me with didn't deserve me or my love.
She was right. He didn't deserve anything from me.
There was no hope of forgiveness.
What he did was something I could not come back from. He didn't do it because he was unaware, he did it deliberately. His intention was to cause me pain. That was what hurt the most.
I stood in front of the mirror. I felt nothing but the dark, simmering rage that burned in my guts. Long gone were my tears, and the only proof that I had were the tear stains that marred my cheeks. As I stared at the mirror, really stared at myself; the eyes that were dried, empty and hollow, nothing came to mind except that I would never be able to escape from my mother's clutches. Even when she had been gone, she had left her mark on me.
Not a drop of my tears would fall for Mason. Yes, there would be a pain, but I would not cry for him. I refused to cry for someone who didn't deserve my tears.
And my heart, the heart that still loved him was buried deep inside my chest. I wished I could stop loving him, wished I could control whom my heart loved and hated, but I could try to ignore it.
Beth was still sleeping, unaware of the decision that I had made. If she knew, she would try and stop me. If she knew, she would try to follow me and everything would end up in disaster. I didn't need her to know what I was going to do, I wasn't even sure I could do it but I had to. For myself.
If I didn't do it, I would never move on.
It was three in the morning when I called Athena, and I was surprised that she had picked up the call. When I told her what I needed, without question and without hesitation, she gave it to me–even though she knew she wasn't supposed to. She didn't even question me on why I needed it, and when I got it, my chest felt tighter than ever.
The next morning, I acted like nothing happened.
Beth tried to get me to talk and open up, but I told her I didn't want to talk about it. Among the things my dad had taught me, one of them was that it wouldn't do anyone good to revisit the things that hurt us. Accept it and move on to the next thing. Revisit it and you would find yourself unable to move on, you would find yourself hurting more.
Of course, I didn't tell Beth that. I just told her I needed her not to talk about it and she agreed not to. Although, this morning, I could see her tiptoeing around me, being nervous and not knowing what to say; I almost wanted to laugh.
Like right now, all dressed up and ready to go to work, she refused to take the next step; which was going out of the flat.
She shuffled around, the distance between her and the door was short, but she wasn't moving. She fumbled with her hands, chewed on her lower lip and stared down at me.
"Do you need me to stay?"
I didn't take my eyes off the tv, preferring to watch my show than watch my best friend in her nervous state.
"For what?" I retorted without looking at her, snuggled with a pillow and the clothes I had slept in last night. My hair was pulled up in a bun, and the only thing missing was the Ice Cream and I would have the 'Heartbreak look'.
"I don't know, we could binge Bridget Jones Diary. Would you like that?"
"Go to work."
"Honestly, I don't feel like leaving you alone right now."
"What do you think is going to happen when you leave?"
She hesitated, yet she knew she had no choice but to come out with the truth. "I don't know! You could end up doing something stupid."
I forced a chuckle at the pinched sound of her voice, and I turned, flashing a pained grin from the couch. "Beth, go to work. I'm fine."
"How can you be fine? Your prick husband and your bitch mother are working together, Lauren. You have the right to breakdown and throw a fit. I would bring this building down if I were in your position," she muttered, meaning it.
Bitterness clogged my throat, but I cleared it and leaned back against the couch.
"Then, I'm glad you aren't," I said, striving to keep any emotion out of my voice even as my gaze traveled back to the screen. "Now go to work."
"Are you sure?" Beth echoed with a note of uncertainty, her words a hushed whisper.
"Beth," I dragged her name with a groan. "I really want to watch my show and you're going to be late."
"Okay, bye! The bat is under my bed if you need to use it. Please, don't break my plates or burn down the kitchen. If you need to vent, you can do the laundry," she rushed out as she moved towards the door. "Okay, I love you! Bye!" When she slammed the door, I tilted my head up and closed my eyes.
I counted to ten, waited in that position for five minutes to make sure she wouldn't come back unexpectedly before I was on my feet to my room. Unknown to Beth, I had already showered, and all I needed was a change of clothes and a brush in my hair. Other than that, I was safe to leave.
Huddleston Motors was a well-known company, not exactly the most popular company, but it did well on its own. They designed, manufactured and distributed vehicles and vehicle parts, with their headquarters in Liverpool. They had several branches in five countries, including Scotland. From what I had discovered, it was set up by the late Steve Huddleston twenty-eight years ago.
Steve Huddleston remarried thirteen years ago after his wife had mysteriously died in a car crash. He died a year ago from cardiac arrest, leaving behind his second wife and three children. His wife, Ginny Huddleston was made the CEO of Huddleston Motors shortly after his death. There was no mention of him and Ginny having kids together.
I had spent an hour going through the family pictures, learning nothing from it except that they were a happy family. In every picture, Ginny would be standing beside her husband or his children. The only thing I could detect from the pictures was that there was some tension between her and Garrett, as he was always seen standing stiff with a forced smile, and he never stood directly beside Ginny.
The last thing I needed was for anyone to know I was here, in Huddleston Motors, and I had already made up my mind to do this, to look for the answers I knew would not come to me just by sitting down at home.
I was already nervous and agitated, and when I walked into the company, it was already too late to turn around. I was already walking up to the receptionist, saying, "Hi, I'm here to see Ginny Huddleston." I wasn't even sure I was going to see her considering this was a surprise visit and I never got to schedule a meeting.
But I wasn't going to leave here without seeing her.
He didn't look at his computer or denied my request, or even asked my name or if I had scheduled a meeting with his boss. He simply, with a charming smile and the face of someone who had won a lottery said, "Lauren Hart?" Like he had been expecting me.
So, she knew I would be here.
Of course, she knew I would be here. This fact made my stomach turn. She hadn't been with me in fourteen years but knew me enough to know I would seek her out. I hated how Ginny thought she could think that.
"Yes," I bit out, hoping I didn't sound too harsh. He wasn't the one who had turned my world upside down. He wasn't the one who was inflicting pain on me. He wasn't the one who had abandoned me and was working with the man I loved. "Can I see her?"
He nodded, signaled someone over and whispered in her ear before she nodded, taking over the place he had occupied. The little exchange made me feel eerie, but not enough to make me bolt. Nothing would make me leave this building without having a word with my birth mother.
"Follow me, please."
He didn't need to say it because I would. I didn't bother glancing around Huddleston Motors, the company not being the most important thing on my mind. Besides, it reeked of bad energy and I wanted to get out of there as fast as possible, as soon as possible.
We came in front of a white door and he knocked, took two seconds before he opened it and moved aside to let me walk in. There was no hesitation before I walked inside the office, hearing the door close gently behind me and I faced the bitch in front of me.
Ginny Huddleston looked like any villain in a story; sitting behind her desk, and there was no doubt that she was my mother. A black blazer under a black dress. She looked very shiny and expensive. Her blonde, wavy hair fell down her shoulders and her lips were kissed with red lipstick.
She addressed me with a neutral look, pointing at the chair in front of her. "Sit." When I didn't move, she let out a little huff. "Sit down, Lauren. If you're going to be difficult about it, just remember that I don't have all day. I canceled important meetings to talk to you."
I leveled her with a glare as I sat down on the chair, now gazing straight at her, and I felt weary and uncomfortable under those cold, unfamiliar eyes.
"Why are you back, Ginny?" Straight the point I wanted it. I didn't come here so we could learn what we liked and what we hated, what movie was her favorite and what her favorite dessert was. "What do you want from me?" I leveled her with a stare that I could only hope carried as much ice as hers did.
"Do you like the office?" She ignored my question, looking around the office that looked like the inside of Voldemort, or someone with no soul. She continued, "It used to be dull and boring, I didn't like anything in it and when my husband died, I had it remodeled to my liking. I removed every piece of an item of his." She sounded proud of that.
I gripped the edge of the chair I was sitting on, the wood digging into my palms. "I don't bloody care."
She waved an elegant, red-nailed tipped hand at me. "Oh, you see, you have to care. You have to care about every single thing I say, Lauren. Starting from your father, how is he? I heard he is receiving the best treatment in the country."
"That's none of your business," I spat.
The smile widened on her face like she was enjoying the reaction she was getting from me. "You know, the first time I met your father, it was love at first sight. Do you know that his family hated me?"
"Yes, but now I understand why they hated you. You're the worst thing to ever happened to him. You took him away from his family." Even after so many years, dad couldn't talk to any member of his family and I knew he missed them so much. Even though he barely admitted it. What was one without a family?
Ginny threw her head back and laughed.
"Worst thing? He was the worst thing that had ever happened to me," her voice carried disdain. "I did not sign up to be married to a poor man. That was who your dad was, Lauren. After his family caught ties with him, everything he owned was taken away from him." There was hardening to her jaw.
I drew in a long, shuddering breath, mind racing.
"What? What are you saying?" With each word, my heartbeat increased until I was certain it would pound out of my chest.
I couldn't believe she was saying all of these things as if she was saying something delightful as if it wasn't my dad she was talking about. As if she wasn't telling me, her daughter, that my dad was her worst mistake. Right in my face.
Her eyes, which used to be warm turned cold.
"I didn't love your father. I did love him when he had everything to make me happy."
My breath caught in my chest, and I felt a sting of pain at those words, staring at her as if this was the first moment I was seeing her in a new light. And I didn't fucking like it. Not one bit.
And she didn't hesitate to turn her condescending glare at me. "Don't look at me like that. I grew up in a trailer with a drunk father and a whore mother. We were poor. I didn't have anything, and I dreamt of being with someone who would give me the world."
Pain, the likes of which I had never experienced, sliced through my chest and curled in my stomach. A fierce cramp immediately seized me. "If you hated him when he lost everything, why did you marry him?" I cried, unable to accept that my parents' marriage had no love in it. At least, on Ginny's part.
I couldn't accept that Ginny had never loved dad when she never gave me a reason to doubt it, even when I grew older and started understanding they had problems, I never would have thought it was because she didn't love him.
"Because I was pregnant with you. I couldn't leave him and raise you alone." She grimaced, her mouth twisting like she had tasted something sour. "I needed him. Do you know how bad that would have been for you? In a way, you should thank me for the life you had, a good one, rather than the one you would have had with me."
I curled my hands into fists by my sides, hissing at the throbbing pain I felt as I clenched my teeth together. Hard. "Fuck you," I muttered, a growl of fury underscoring my words. "Really, fuck you." What kind of a mother says things like that? She felt no remorse.
She flushed, anger marking red splotches across her cheeks, but she didn't lose the cool in her voice. "Still ungrateful, I see."
Her response left me gobsmacked at a total loss of words. She had successfully killed the little love and respect I had for her. It was dead, annihilated, and she was the only one to blame, for she was the one who had killed it.
"All those years, you lied to him. You made him believe that you loved him," I snapped, seized by a wave of nausea. The words felt ripped from my gut. Inside, I throbbed, raw and broken.
"Made him believe? Do you think your father is dumb? All those times I used to sneak out in the night and the cold shoulders I gave him, the calls I used to answer in private, do you honestly think he didn't know what was going on?"
As her words vibrated the air around us and the realization kicked in, I gripped the edge of the chair a fraction harder. If I was holding something fragile, it would have cracked under my hand, cut my hand and let my mother's blood flow through her expensive rug.
A thought hit me so hard and fast that I gasped.
"You were having an affair," my voice cracked.
"It started happening before you were born and I couldn't stop. I fell in love with Steve. He gave me everything your father didn't. He promised me riches, Lauren."
Her words seared my heart and branded me with misery. "You left your family for money? Your daughter for your own selfish needs?" My lips thinned with obvious anger, and I was caught between the wish to cry and the urge to rage at her. These little facts that I started to learn changed everything, ruined every good memory of my childhood, and if I hadn't wanted to break down in front of her, I would have been crying hysterically right now.
Her face tightened into a deep scowl. "You don't know what it was like growing up with nothing, fighting for what to eat and trying to survive. I'm suddenly a bad person if I wanted better for myself?"
"How is what you did make you a good person? But it doesn't matter now. You've got what you have always wanted."
"I fought for it. It didn't just drop on me like yours did, Lauren."
The muscles of my jaw seemed to freeze. "Is that why you're here?" A curious tightness settled around my heart. "Mason?"
Her eyes flickered. She did not move a muscle.
"What I'm here for is simply business, and your husband is a good businessman. We both wanted something from each other. That is why I'm here." The change of tone, the tightness in her jaw, the iciness of her eyes suddenly made me realize there was something deeper going on, something I couldn't place my finger on.
Something unknown that I wasn't being told.
"What do you want from him, Ginny? You should know, Mason is not your average man. I'm sure you've heard stories about him. If you think for one single moment that you can use him, then you're in for a fucking surprise. I don't know what he wants from you, but it has to be big if he made you his partner. He doesn't share anything with someone."
"You do know your husband very well, sweetheart. But you don't know me. I don't fear men. If I did, my husband would still be alive."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I felt fear in the pit of my stomach and I didn't know where it came from. "What did you do?"
She grinned and confessed in a sweet voice, "I poisoned him and acquired everything he owned. It was quite easy, actually. All people care about these days is money. You can do anything if you have money."
"You did what?" I froze as fear seized me, and I felt horrified and stunned all at once, my whole body locked up in sheer terror.
"Lauren, don't look at me like that. Steve wasn't exactly a good husband." I watched her with a pale, tensed face as she got up on her feet and approached the bar, pouring herself a scotch before she turned around to face me. "Not only did he constantly cheated on me, but he almost brought this company to the ground with his debt if I hadn't stepped up to save what remained of it." She brought the cup to her lips and paused. "He was a terrible man, Lauren. I had suffered terribly in his hands, but I'm glad his chapter came to an end."
My stomach dropped through the floor.
She admitted to killing someone. Ginny poisoned and ended a life, and she was proud of it.
I wanted to be sick.
"Does his children know you killed their father?" I asked, my voice high pitched with terror.
"I'm not stupid, Lauren," she replied, still devoid of emotions. Meaning, they didn't know. If they did, she would have been in prison.
I finally gathered some courage to threaten her. "Why don't I just go tell everyone, then? How you poisoned your husband and covered it up. I'm sure the authorities and your step kids would love to hear that. Save me whole trouble of getting you far away from here."
Ginny straightened in her seat, her shoulders broad in her blazer. The evil twist to her lips had my stomach clenching tightly, telling me this wasn't the woman that I knew. She was someone dangerous, someone with a goal and thirst for a win.
"Do that and I'm going to hurt you in a way you least expect it." She smiled with saccharine sweetness. "Your father is your weakness, isn't he? Your friend, Beth? Perhaps, Mason?" She delivered the threat in such a cold, uncaring way that I really questioned if this woman was the one who gave birth to me, the one who sang on my birthdays and baked cookies for me and Beth.
I spluttered before blinking at her. She just threatened to hurt the people I cared about. The threat hit its mark though, and I was gripped with fear. "Don't..."
Her eyes were merciless. "You'd do well to remember not to threaten me ever again."
"What do you want? What would it take for you to get out of our lives?" I didn't even realize my voice came out as a whimper.
I feared her.
"I came here to collect a debt that I'm owed, and if it isn't repaid, well, I'm afraid things are going to get ugly. My fight isn't with you or your dad. Frankly, I don't care about both of you. You're better off not having me in your lives, so as soon as I get what I want, you'd never have to see me again."
"You have no regrets," I realized. She was far too gone to regret anything.
A person who could take a life and be proud of it was not someone who had regrets. The beautiful soul I thought my mother had once was gone now. As I said before, she wasn't my mother.
She couldn't be.
My mother died fourteen years ago.
She died the minute she left us.
"What would I regret about? You had a good childhood, did you not?" She raised her eyebrows from where she stood. "Did your dad not take your care of you? I always knew he would be able to."
I stared at her, dazed, hurt and broken.
Fear, hate and anger consuming me.
"You know when I envisioned this moment, standing in front of you, talking to you...that was what I had always wanted, to see you one more time and talk to you. I fucking wish that I hadn't wasted time on someone like you." Eventually, I would have to come into terms with the realization that I would never ever have a mother. A mother who would love me. A mother that I thought would embrace me and ask for my forgiveness.
It was never going to happen.
And that knocked the breath completely out of me.
Ginny shrugged. "Not everyone has a mother."
I collapsed on the ground.
There was no sound coming from me for what felt like an eternity. My mind was whirling incoherently and I felt faint.
The ground felt cold against my skin, and I knew I should get up and open the door, walk inside so no one would come out of their flat and find me out here. But I couldn't. I was paralyzed with shock, my mind and heart both felt heavy.
How do you begin to think? How do you begin to accept that you're never going to get your mother's love again? What do you do with that? From where would you lift yourself up when every angle has been knocked down from you?
For fourteen years, I had hated my mother. I grew up with hate in my heart, but I knew I hadn't hated her completely. I had denied it, stood my ground and tried to wipe her out of my memories. I was angry that she could leave her ten-year-old daughter and never looked back, but underneath all of that hate and anger, it was love that had caused it.
Even when I hated her, I still loved her.
But now, when I was hit with the realization that I meant nothing to her, that I spent years being angry and being in pain for nothing, when I did finally face her, after fourteen years, only to learn that she had never loved me. She never once had missed me, or ever felt like coming back.
After fourteen years, I finally knew the real her; everything else had been my imagination. The selfish woman turned murderer, only because of money. Luxury she wanted to have.
Broke a family.
Took a father away from his children.
Money. Money. Money.
That was what everyone gave importance to.
I wasn't aware that I was crying until warm arms wrapped around me and brought me to their chest. I broke down, and everything I was feeling came out in a rush. I fought the person valiantly as they held me in their arms and sobbed.
"She never loved us," I was saying as I was being held firmly. I was hysterical, clawing at the arms and trying desperately to get away. "She left me for money. What am I supposed to do now?" I was fighting for air and choking on sobs.
"I need her..I need my mum. Oh God..." I felt a rush of pain wash over me like a tidal wave. Everything hurt. I tried to wipe my eyes, but tears kept streaming down.
"I don't have a mum," I choked out. "I lost my mum. Please, make the pain stop. It hurts so much, I can't breathe. I can't....I can't..." I was shaking my head uncontrollably and jerking against the body, trying to get to the window so I could breathe the air, but I was held back against the body that now scooped me up into their arms.
A hand rummaged through my bag and got a key out, unlocking the door before it was pushed open and I was carried inside. I was still crying, unaware of my surroundings and just consumed by an intense pain that I thought would break my heart into two.
I was put on the couch before someone kneeled in front of me; warm, strong hands moved my hair out of my face and wiped the tears from my eyes. When I blinked, it wasn't so blurry anymore. When I blinked, I could see who was knelt in front of me.