It must’ve been a dream.
There’s no way in hell I could’ve possibly found Diego Rivero beaten up and half passed out at some alley in Boston. And bringing him over to my apartment? Watching over him for almost the entire night? That was ridiculous. A figment of my imagination. A wishful thinking borne of many, many nights full of dreams, of nightmares, of thinking, where is he now?
But as I rode the tram to work after two hours of sleep, I knew it wasn’t a dream. But a big part of me wished it was. That part needed it to be a dream. Because the alternative was to open one hell of a pandora box.
When I arrived at work, I felt so wiped out, I could barely stand. As I got myself into the office, Gabby saw me and offered to make me a strong cup of coffee. I took her up on it, and made my way over to my desk, dropping over my chair, wishing I wouldn’t have to stand up anytime soon.
Gabby returned with the coffee, and after she put it on the desk, she asked, concerned, “Is everything okay?”
“Yeah,” I murmured, sipping the coffee. “Just didn’t sleep well.”
She gave me a sympathetic smile. “Don’t worry, today’s not as hectic as last week was. I doubt Nola would care if you take it easy for just one day.”
“Thanks,” I croaked.
After she left, my phone beeped. I took it out and groggily saw a text from Orlando, saying, ‘Fine. I give up. Just don’t come begging if you suddenly change your mind.’
Finally some good news.
Nola came striding into the office, holding a Starbucks coffee cup, and plopped her butt on my desk. “What do I have on my schedule today?” she asked, and then looked at me. “You look like shit. What’s going on?”
I gave her a faint smile as I opened up the calendar on the computer. “Bad night,” I murmured, “I’m fine, though. Let’s see…”
We went over her schedule, and by the time I finished, she said, “Make sure to schedule a meeting with Orlando tomorrow morning. We need to go over some last few things.”
“Will do,” I said, and the thought of calling the asshole made me want to beat my head against the wall. “Are we still on for tonight?” I asked her, because I still needed to talk to her about him and his idiotic advances.
She peered at me with a frown. “You asked me yesterday, too. Is something up?”
I sighed. “We’ll talk over drinks tonight.”
“I hate when people do that,” she grumbled and hopped down. “Well, let’s get this day going, and if you need, like, a break or something,” she said, pointing at my face, “please let me know, okay?”
“Thanks, Nols,” I said gratefully, and she blew me a kiss before walking to her office.
The day proved to be, as Gabby said, last hectic than usual. The preparations for the big Workeen event were not due to start until next week, and Larsen Walker’s party was already pretty much arranged, and so I took it easy, taking a few breaks to nap so I could function at some level.
By the time evening came, Nola and I settled at Raver’s, and once we had some Chardonnay, I told Nola, “Orlando kind of hit on me.”
Nola’s reaction wasn’t what I’d expected. She burst out laughing as if it was the best joke she’d ever heard. “Ah, Orlando,” she shook her head. “Such a flirt. Did you sleep with him?”
I blinked. “Of course not. He’s your ex.”
“I told you, Paige,” she said, surprised, “I don’t have any feelings for him anymore. If you want to bang him, you’re more than welcome to. He’s good in bed, let me tell you.”
Wow. “Um, Nola,” I said slowly, “I’m not going to sleep with a client, especially not him. He’s your ex.” And she did have feelings for him, didn’t she? Or maybe I’d read it all wrong after all?
She rolled her eyes. “So what if he’s my ex? It’s not like I have dibs on him or something. We broke up ages ago.”
A thought passed through my head, then. A thought about the man who’d laid on my sofa last night, running a fever, bleeding, hurt. The man I had fought to not think about all day. If I knew a person close to me was being hit on by him, if I knew he was trying to get that person in his bed…
But there again, Diego and I had never been like that. We hadn’t been in a relationship. Maybe it was different once you had a taste. What would I know? It wasn’t like I’d ever let anyone close enough for that, and when I tried…
“Anyway,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m not going to sleep with him. I’m not interested.”
“Oh, please,” Nola said as she sipped her wine. “Everyone is interested in Orlando Walker. Don’t you have eyes? The guy’s a freaking lollipop.”
Before I could stop myself, I blurted, “I’m into men who have more grit.”
She looked at me, startled, before laughing again. “Aren’t you full of surprises,” she said, grinning. “I thought you were the type to go after guys like Lando but I guess I was wrong.”
“Why would I go after rich, pompous assholes?” I asked, arching an eyebrow.
She shrugged. “Why wouldn’t you? It’s not like it’s a crime,” she pointed out. “Hell, I know I would eventually end up with a guy like that. Rich and pompous. Men with grit are exciting, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just that the excitement can sometimes be too intense, and you know me.” She smiled. “I’d rather have a soft boy.”
The way she talked about it made me smile a little, too. “You’ve never met a gritty boy in your entire life, have you?”
Glancing at me, she suddenly frowned. “Where I come from, there aren’t a lot of gritty boys. It’s usually Orlando’s sort. Which makes me wonder…”
I tensed. “Wonder what?”
Her frown deepened and she fully turned to me. “I know you don’t talk a lot about it,” she said, and warning signs flared to life in my head. “Your past, I mean.”
Seeing where she was going with it, I immediately put an emergency plan in action and forced out a laugh. “Don’t worry, there weren’t a lot of gritty boys where I came from, too,” I said with a large, fake smile. “It wasn’t until I got to uni that I - “ I stopped, the smile pasted on my face, panic in my head.
Nola looked at me with seriousness she usually didn’t display. But before she could say anything, I forced out another laugh and waved my hand dismissively. “Never mind, that. Anyway, I’m glad I told you about Orlando. I felt kind of guilty about it.”
She stared at me for a few moments, before she let go of the previous subject and chuckled. “Well, thanks for telling me. But honestly, though. If you wanna sleep with him, be my guest. Just…” her gaze turned somber. “Don’t expect anything more to happen.”
It was a landmine. I could feel it. This, this was what Nola was truly feeling. And it all suddenly became crystal clear. “Did he use you?” I asked quietly.
She gave me a sad smile. “I thought it was a relationship,” she said, “and he probably thought it was, too, in his own way. I mean, he was committed.” She sighed. “But in the end, he told me he didn’t have it in him to develop any real feelings, and that while the sex was great, he couldn’t give me what I want.”
Which was a home, a family, children. “I’m sorry,” I said sincerely, “it probably sucked.”
“It did, but at least it’s long over,” she smiled truthfully this time. “We’re now casual friends, and I’m happy with that.”
And so I understood. Nola was into him, maybe even in love with him, but he wasn’t, and she learned how to be mature about it and maybe even moved on. And this was why she didn’t mind him fucking other women - she knew that he wouldn’t be able to feel that way towards them, and she was probably right. Men like Orlando, I could tell from my short acquaintance with him, weren’t like they were portrayed in the movies; the hot, rich man who just needed to meet the right woman to turn into a new leaf.
The worst of it was, though, that, despite what I’d told myself years ago, what I’d truly believed back then, Diego Rivero was of the same mold.
As the week slowly passed, I couldn’t help but wonder about Diego. I wondered if he was better now, after being injured and ill, and if he was being taken care of. I also wondered if he was still in Boston, and if he was, what he was doing here. But the thoughts produced nothing but stark, old pain, especially since a part of me had almost dared to hope he would’ve called, or at least text, to say thank you.
“Well, I hoped to at least get a polite ‘thank you’ but it seems it’s beneath you to thank simple commoners” was what he’d told me all these years ago, before everything happened, but apparently he wasn’t going to follow his own words of wisdom, and if I could just learn to live with that, everything would be fine.
He’d popped back into my life so suddenly, and disappeared from it just as suddenly in the span of hours. Yet here I was, thinking about him, as if I still didn’t learn anything. As if I still was that twenty-year-old girl who thought he hung the world, and that if only I’d taken the chance, then he would’ve taken it, too. But he’d proved to me more than one time that, whatever had gone on between us, was never going to be anything more.
I could still remember the first time he’d pushed me away. We were on that balcony somewhere in Queens, and it was New Year’s Eve, and we were swaying to the music, talking about something when I got pulled toward him. The moment had seemed to be perfect, it could’ve been perfect, but then he pushed me away before anything could happen.
Then there was the second time. We were at his place, drenched from the rain, and we’d just taken a shower when tension had filled the air. Then, one thing led to another, and we’d kissed, making out as if our life depended on it, and he tried to push me away again, but I attacked him, refusing to believe he was going to do this to me again. But eventually he did push me away again, put an impenetrable wall between us, and I had no choice but to go nurse my lost hope.
I should’ve been smart and let myself move on. But then he’d saved my life, saved Peter’s life, and I thought… I’d thought that maybe…
But he’d pushed me away again. And then, he was gone. Disappeared from the face of the earth.
I’d looked for him all over the social media sites right after I learned he was gone, but he never had any accounts anywhere. I’d tried sending him emails to his school email address, but I never got a reply. It was only when I went out on a break between my second and third of uni that I had to finally accept that it was over. That whatever we had - friendship, something else, something more, perhaps - was over.
And it felt like my heart had shattered to pieces all over again.
So I squashed that small hope that he might reach out to me to say thank you for helping him out that night, stomped on it with every ounce of will I had inside me, and held my head high.
I wasn’t ever going back to being the girl I was.
Besides, Boston was a big city. The odds of me crossing paths with him were slim. And I had the feeling that he would never seek me out again. Not after what happened. Not after everything.
With that, all I had to do was take a deep breath, and get on with my life and never look back.