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Chapter 37

"She is full of wounds, riddled with scars, but she is still standing, and she is still beautiful."
~R.H. Sin

I took a deep breath.

Just say it. You’ll feel better.

“Some days are worse than others,” I admitted. “Some days, I miss Will terribly because despite how we ended, we were really close. I told him things I don’t think I even told Mark or Mia. I don’t know… I just felt I could trust him. I guess I should be grateful he only used my fears against me rather than leaking them to the press. Besides, he hurt me, so I dished it right back.”

“James told me what he said to you. I wanted to smack him upside the head for that. I still think you telling her to invest in spanks, so we stop seeing her pale ass in the news is the best thing I’ve ever heard.”

I buried my face in my hands, thoroughly embarrassed. “I was furious, and she wouldn’t shut up.”

“If I didn’t have to hold up some sense of decorum, I’d tell her the same next time I see her.” Everly set down the mascara. “I never told you this, and I think enough people have told you this already, but Will kept liking you long after you shot his ego down the first time he asked you out.”

I frowned. “Really? He didn’t act like it. I mean, any affection he showed me, I thought it was just Will being Will.”

“You think forehead kisses and lavish gifts and always closer to you than he needs to be is platonic?”

“Yes?” I sighed, pulling my sleeves over my fists and leaning my head against the wall. “He’s a royal, and despite his stupidity recently, he’s actually brilliant? Hell, the guy graduated college at eighteen. His IQ is off the charts.”

“Will can run this country like nobody’s business. When it comes to personal relationships, he’s not as adept. Sometimes, I wonder if Will lacks in social skills because he’s so smart. Don’t get me wrong, he’s charming and quippy and entertaining, but almost every single friendship he’s had has always been kind of... superficial? Sure, he went out and partied with friends, but he never told them anything about himself. You and James? You two were the only ones he ever revealed things to, especially you.”

Everly dug through my makeup bag, searching for eyeshadow. “Many of Will’s issues come from his dad, who trained him to conceal, not feel. You’ve met the man. He’s not exactly warm. Obviously, Will didn’t follow that rule when he fucked up his relationship with you, but most of the time, he does. You were the best thing that ever happened to him, and I told him as much in my tirade against him. I always thought you two would be a good match. I would’ve told you sooner, but I was going to wait until you reciprocated, if you ever did.”

“I started to…” I whispered, swallowing down the knot in my throat. Everly froze, eyeliner pencil suspended in her hand. She turned slowly to face me. “I even gave him an opportunity to ask me out, and he didn’t. So I figured his feelings for me had passed.”

Everly set the pencil down. “Do you still like him?”

I didn’t say anything as the memories replayed in my head, the timeline of me slowly but surely falling for Will. To this day, I still couldn’t pinpoint when it’d happened.

It could’ve happened when he started coming to the hospital in disguise to see Mia.

Or it could’ve been when he opened up to me about his troubles, something I know he’d never told anyone else until Lorraine showed up. Perhaps it was Christmas time, spending it with me and the others in Mia’s hospital room. He could’ve spent it with his parents, no matter how strained their relationship was. He could’ve spent it with his other friends. But no, he chose to spend his time with me and my little family in a hospital.

Then there was the trip to Afric, the time we spent together, the conversations we had, and the fluttering in my heart whenever he kissed me on the forehead.

Maybe it was a little bit of everything…

“Annalise?” Everly said hesitantly. I looked up at her, surprised to see my vision blurred. Everly, recognizing I was about to break down, dropped what she was doing and rushed to my side. She pulled me into a hug right as the tears cascaded down my cheeks. I buried my head into her shoulder.

“I know I’ve said this before, but I’m going to kill that bloody idiot,” Everly growled.

I chuckled through my tears. “Don’t kill him. It’s more torture for him to be alive. Besides, I don’t want you giving birth to your baby in prison.”

Everly sighed, annoyed. “Fine... can I at least hit him?”

“I don’t think it’d stop you even if I said no.”

“You’re right, it wouldn’t. I know something that might make you feel better though."

"What is it?"

"I think Will's going to break up with Lorraine soon."

"What?!" I exclaimed, stunned by the news.

"He hasn't said it outright, but he's been spending more time by himself, and he hasn't been as... handsy with her? I guess is the best way to put it? Unfortunately, I've had to be around them a few times because of the scandal, but their relationship has changed."

"That... does make me feel slightly better," I confessed. I started to something else, but my phone dinged, alerting me I had a text message. "I should probably check my phone to see how many calls and texts he’s left me today.”

She raised her brows. “He’s still calling and texting?”

I nodded, standing up and wiping my tears away. “Now I have to redo my makeup.”

“Aren’t we a pair?” Everly joked, then added, “Where’s your phone?”

“Here,” I said, grabbing it off my nightstand. “I don’t use it much now. I mostly use my work phone. Let’s see… there are five texts and two calls and one voicemail. One of the texts is from Mia, saying she and the boys are on their way back. All the others are from Will.”

“Can I listen to the voicemail with you?”

I shrugged. “Sure.”

Hitting play, she and I settled on my bed, listening to the message that sounded the same as all the others. When finished that one, she hit play on another while I went to my vanity to fix my makeup.

“Have you tried calling him back or responding?” she finally asked, hanging up my phone.

“No. I’m not… I’m not ready to talk to him again. I’m not ready to open that door right now. Besides, as long as Lorraine is in his life, I don’t want to speak to him or see him. She’s the reason this all happened. She drove a wedge between us, and by the time I realized what happened, it was too late.”

“Honey, if you went back into his life, he wouldn’t be with her much longer. I bet you anything she doesn’t know he’s been leaving all these messages to you.”

“Whether she does or doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. Whatever was going on with me and Will is over, and I don’t think it can ever be salvaged.” I bit my quivering lip. I refused to cry anymore tonight.

I heard the front door open, and Mia shouted, “We’re home!”

Sharing a glance, Everly and I said we’d be right out and hastily finished touching up our makeup. Then, giving each other a once-over to make sure we hid any evidence of our breakdowns, we went out to greet them.

“What were you two doing?” Mark asked, taking container after container out of the to-go bag.

“She was listening to all the voicemails Will left me,” I said.

“Still?” Mia remarked.

Everly laughed, grabbing her dinner. “That’s what I said.”

We sat down at the table, and the conversation stayed light-hearted and joking. Mark and James were especially on a roll with the banter. At one point, I laughed so hard, soda went up my nose.

Afterward, I was doing the dishes when I overheard Everly ask Mark, “Love, can I talk to you privately? I need to tell you something.”

“Of course,” he said. “Annalise, can we use your bedroom real quick?”

“Sure, but give me your whiskey,” I said, nodding towards the glass in his hand. “No drinks other than water in the bedrooms.”

“Since when is that a rule?”

“Since I just said it was.” I plucked the glass out of his hand while Everly smothered a laugh. She knew precisely why I was taking his drink. They headed into my bedroom and shut the door. I tried to eavesdrop, but it turned out to be impossible with James and Mia talking.

About ten minutes passed before they finally came back into the kitchen, hand in hand, and absolutely glowing with excitement. Mark turned to me and said, “Now I know why you took my glass.”

“What’s going on?” Mia queried, finally breaking off her conversation with James.

Mark and Everly shared an adoring look before she said, “I’m pregnant!”

James and Mia stood in shock only momentarily before they rushed up to hug her as they all but sang their happiness for the couple. Mark shuffled next to my side and embraced me.

“How long did you know?” he whispered.

“Right after you left to get dinner,” I replied.

“Thank you for convincing her to tell me sooner rather than later. I owe you one.”

“You’re family, Mark. You owe me nothing.”

We pulled apart and watched as Mia, James, and Everly chatted fervently about everything to do with pregnancy and babies. Well, more like James listened to them. He couldn’t really get a word in. He looked like a deer in headlights, to be honest.

Smiling, Mark and I joined the group, and the rest of the night was spent celebrating the pregnancy and the future child that would join our family.

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