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I had woken up feeling rested and at peace. My heavy thoughts of the previous day thankfully not even leaving a trace on my mind. As usual in the last couple of months, I was the first to arrive at AD and would be the last to leave. The silence and stillness of the unpopulated office helped me organize my thoughts and priorities for the day, just before the building was buzzing with life, every seat being occupied, as people slowly arrived, filling the space with vibrant activity, which would normally thrill and energize me, getting me pumped for a new day.

Not today.

Today, I oddly preferred the silence.

Liam was waiting for me on the 55th floor, where all the board members’ offices were located for our usual morning meeting, and of course, also, as usual, I had lost track of time and was running late. I took the stairs, running up them in pairs, trying to get there as fast as possible. It was only three floors up, and I was not that out of shape. But for some reason as I got higher so did my sense of uneasiness, as if something important was about to happen. Not necessarily bad or good, just… something. I quickly brushed it off, because really… What do you think you are, Alison? Psychic? I chuckled at my own stupidity, rolling my eyes in the process, before arriving at the top floor of the AD building.

“Good morning, Michele!” I greeted the receptionist to the stars. The Architects Dornier’s superstars all depended on her to manage their agendas amongst other stuff. She was cute and good-looking in a fake model kind of way. Her fake boobs and blond hair didn’t leave much of a doubt that there was a lot more plastic than meets the eye.

“Good morning, Miss Dornier.” She answered sporting a smile just as fake as the rest. Yes, she called me Dornier. My last name was Dornier, after my father, the clean part of the family. The Battaglia and Italian side of me, was left outside of this building as per his very strict orders. From what I could spot from the corner of my eye, the only Battaglia he couldn’t quite manage to banish from the perimeter was Teresa Battaglia, my mother, who was oddly walking into his office at that very moment. This was more than strange. My mind and gut quickly brought back the uneasy feeling I had felt just moments ago as I climbed those stairs. Michele was still blabbering about God knows what, but I found myself gravitating towards my father’s office, leaving her to speak to herself.

My parents have been happily divorced for over twelve years. It was not a peaceful break-up, in spite of my mother’s best attempts at making it look like it was. I felt it. I felt it hard. I was only fourteen when they finally cut the link completely, but the whole process took over two extremely long years. I especially felt the distance that quickly grew between my father and me after that. That truly gutted me, especially once I found out that he hadn’t even applied for custody. If I had balls, that would have hurt more than a knee to the sensitive pair. Yes, I know. Sarcasm and humor were very much one of my coping mechanisms.

What he had done, or rather, not done, just meant that he didn’t want me. He didn’t even try to have me, even if it was a long shot. But apparently, I wasn’t even worth the effort. I remember feeling unloved, unwanted, unwelcome, for many years after that. I still do sometimes when I let myself go down that rabbit hole and be vulnerable. My father, with just one inexistent gesture, had made me feel like the smallest person on earth. I had never felt like that in my life, not before and not after.

I stood outside the slightly ajar door, doing my best to steady and silence my breathing.

“Teresa! To what do I owe this unexpected and unpleasant visit?” I heard my father saying in a thicker than normal French accent. That was his tell. The way I knew he was bothered or nervous. My mother made everyone nervous, just by existing, never mind if she was actively searching you out. Even after years of marriage, my father was also still not immune to her. And I know, I know… don’t hold my eavesdropping against me. I just needed to know why the hell she was here when they have barely directed a word at each other since the last reading of the settlement. They had this slow-burning hate kind of thing going on between them, taking joy in hurting each other with every shot they got. My mother, being at AD in my father’s office, only meant one thing – trouble with a potential for disaster.

“Adrian, caro mio,” My mother practically sang, her compliment dripping in acidic sarcasm, “I haven’t missed you at all. Time has not been kind to you!” And so the dance of the vipers had started.

“Likewise my dear. Italy has surely sped up the aging process. Well preserved is certainly not in your dictionary.”

“That’s because I’m here, having to face you.” I’m not sure, but should I be keeping scores on each blow?

“What do you want, Teresa?”

“Adrian, Adrian…Who has lead a more honorable life, caro?” I could hear my mother’s high heels rhythmically tapping on the wooden floors, as if she was circling her prey, letting her words sink in, allowing a few moments of silence so every word could be assimilated. “Me owning who I am, living my life and crimes out in the open for the world to see, or you? Hiding and concealing in the corners of high society afraid to be found out for who you truly are? Nothing more than a fancy rat in tailored suits. Careful dear, your disgusting tail is finally showing.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Your past trespasses are catching up with you now, Adrian. Anne… Anne is dead.” Anne? Who the hell is Anne?

I could hear a pin drop in that office, such was the deafening silence that had fallen between those walls. I could only imagine that this Anne was someone important to my father. It took a while before my mother resumed, making me sharpen my ears again, to make out what they were saying. “Cognac at nine-thirty seems fitting for the news I’m here to deliver. Make it a double while you’re at it, because I’m not finished yet. Apparently, her last will had a clear instruction that I was to be contacted. As it seems I am the honest one here. Ironic, right? Want to guess who was on the other end of that call?” I couldn’t make heads or tails out of their conversation but I even stopped breathing. I had the feeling this was the big news my mother had deemed important enough to deliver firsthand. I could feel the tension in that office skyrocket, the sound of my heart thumping in my ears louder than the bustling activity of the office around me. This apparently had nothing to do with me, but my hands now had a new coat of sweat, and my stomach a knot that wouldn’t untie. “One Adrianne Smith. Curious name, no?” Another silence was ringing in my head, my breathing speeding up unconsciously. “Why oh why would Anne name her child that. It boggles the mind, does it not?” Adrianne? ADRIANNE? I was hyperventilating as the realization was starting to sink in, trapped tears stinging my eyes, the lump of panic, burning my throat.

“I beg your pardon? It can’t be! I would have known... It can’t be...” My father shouted, outrage and perplexion clear in his desperate tone.

“And yet, ‘can’t be’ has nothing against what simply is. You know who I spoke to,

caro, you know.” The paradoxical glee and accusation, evident in my mother’s voice.

“My daughter…” A low exhale from my father that had freed my unshed tears, my thoughts too loud to register any other word that came from the office.

I was his ONLY daughter. Just two simple words and I was fourteen again, the smallest person in this world. I didn’t know how to deal with this information. I felt like my heart had just been ripped out of my chest and all the few fond memories I had of my childhood were nothing but a lie.

I needed to cry, I needed to scream, I needed someone to hold me tight. Rationalizing feelings was my way of coping, but right now I couldn’t hold a clear thought in my mind. I needed someone to tell me this wasn’t true, that my father wasn’t a lying cheat. That he didn’t have another child.

How could I feel so betrayed?

I ran back down the stairs, my tears now in a free fall I couldn’t control. I darted across the floor, to my desk grabbing my keys and bag, flying back towards the lift, pressing that button so hard and so many times, I’m not sure how it didn’t get stuck. I had so many thoughts crowding my mind that I couldn’t make heads or tails out of them.

First my brothers.

I couldn’t talk to my brothers about this. Not just yet. This is just an issue they don’t need to deal with right now. I grabbed the phone and dialed Jackson’s number, but it went straight to voicemail. I knew myself. I needed someone to keep my emotions at bay. Someone who could pull me out of the darkness of my own past rejections.

“Fuck.” I hissed in exasperation, feeling the sting of unlawfulness harder than I’ve ever felt in my life, as I got in the luckily empty elevator, wanting nothing but to vanish. I have no one in my corner right now. No one I could call to walk me through my dismay. How did I let it get to this? I don’t even have one friend I can call to help me clear my head, someone who I could vent to, get this weight off of my chest. I couldn’t breathe. I was trying so hard not to break right here that I couldn’t even draw a breath.

I... I... I just needed air!

I was feeling this whirlwind of unfamiliar feelings that I couldn’t label or understand, hate predominately surfacing. I did not like recognizing that one.

I couldn’t help feeling the betrayal personally. We weren’t enough for him. I wasn’t enough. Why wasn’t I enough? Why wasn’t I…

I made it to my car, locking myself inside finally opening the latch for the real dam of sadness and sobs. I shut my eyes, the tips of this darkness staining my soul with an overwhelming need to explode.

To drown in my pain.

To drown in my tears.

To drown in my fears.

I finally let my body unapologetically shake with each hiccup of unyielding sadness. Someone, please wake me from this nightmare I’m entering. Don’t let me fall into the dark corners of my mind. I needed something close to a guardian angel to pull me out of this hell. Again.

Suddenly I heard a knock on the window startling me, as I tried to steady my breathing, cleaning my face before I looked up and saw Max standing on the other side. I shut my eyes as tight as they would go, hoping he would be gone by the time I opened them back up, but he insisted, knocking harder.

“What do you want Max?” I asked, my voice breaking as I still kept my eyes from meeting his.

“Open the car, Alison.” He ordered, his voice was soft but commanding.

I stared at him for a couple of moments before I unlocked the car, as Max opened the door almost immediately, not taking any chances.

“Jump over to the passenger seat.” He ordered again, not even bothering to ask what was happening. I looked up at him, still rooted in my spot, before he ushered me to do what he said. “Don’t worry. I’m taking you out of here, I’m taking you home.”

At the sound of that, my tears started falling heavily once again, as I turned my face to the window, trying but failing to conceal my sobs as Max drove me home. I felt his strong hand covering my own, which rested in fists on my legs. He brushed my skin with the pad of his thumb, while he took us through traffic, holding his silence for my relief. I looked out the window during the whole drive, avoiding Max’s gaze as much as possible, but finding some comfort in his soothing strokes. My shaking body had stilled under his touch, but my tears were relentless and I still hadn’t gone dry, the view nothing but a smudged blur under the crystal of every drop of sorrow.

Max parked the car in front of my apartment and turned off the ignition, breaking me from the flooding trail of thoughts I could neither stop nor rationalize.

“Alison?” He finally broke the silent spell that had lingered during the whole drive, making me look at him. His ice-blue eyes piercing my soul, his furrowed brows showing concern for my unspoken problems, but he still didn’t dare to pry. His hand cupped my cheek as I bit my bottom lip to stop myself from shedding even more tears as I faced him. I couldn’t hold them though. I leaned into his caress, new drops falling on his wrist, before he softly whispered, “Come. I’ll take you up.”

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