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Authors: Laurelin Paige

Last Kiss (11 page)

BOOK: Last Kiss
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Was this why she loved it up here so much? Had she stood up here, alone, trying to get the courage to step off the edge? Was she still thinking about it now? My mind flooded with worry while my body tensed with panic.

“Please. Don’t.” She waved her hand dismissively. “Don’t make it melodramatic. It wasn’t like that. I just…” She trailed off, and although she was silent for only a few seconds, the weight of them made it feel three times as long. “I don’t know. Being trapped here gave me a lot of time to think, I guess. A lot of time for introspection. And I started to think what’s the point? I was broaching thirty and had nothing to show for my life. I saw how far you’d come —”

“Hardly,” I interrupted, mortified that she would have looked to my bland, empty life as a model of comparison.

But she ignored me, raising her voice to make sure I didn’t speak over her again. “— while I was still living off someone else’s handouts. No friends. No family. No one to miss me if I were gone.”


I
would have missed you!” My throat was thick and my eyes watery. “I missed you
every day
.” It was such a relief to finally say that to her. Like it had been a shameful secret that I’d carried for years and now I was at the day of reckoning.

“And not just me. You had Reeve. He wanted to marry you.” My voice caught, and I hated that it hurt to say that even now, when my sole focus should have been on comforting her. “How could you say you had no one?”

“He wanted kids.” She said it as if that were an obvious explanation.

“So? You’d have kids.” And somewhere in the back of my brain I thought,
Oh, he wants kids
and
God, do I want kids too? With him?

Amber shook her head. “I can’t.”

I furrowed my brow trying to decipher if she really meant
can’t
or if instead she meant
won’t.

“I can’t have kids,” she said again. “I’ve been checked out. I did too much damage to my uterus. Too many terminated pregnancies. And I can’t have them.” She gave a weak laugh. “Ironic how I did everything to not get pregnant before and now I’d do anything…”

She took a deep breath then let it out. “It wasn’t fair to take that from Reeve just because I’d been reckless with my past.”

I scrubbed my hands over my face not sure if I wanted to cry or scream. Or laugh. Knowing that whatever I did, this wasn’t going to end well. It was one thing to claim Reeve as mine when she’d left him because they were wrong for each other, and quite another when she’d left him because she loved him.

It was unfair. And, irrationally, it felt somewhat spiteful.

Or maybe I was the one full of spite.

Steepling my fingers, I pressed them against my lower lip. “Did you talk to him about this?”

“No. I would have rather died.” Her eyes met mine. “So I called you.”

“Amber…” A thousand words died on my tongue before I managed, “I wish I’d been there for you.” But, selfishly, I didn’t really wish that at all. If she had reached me when she’d called, I wouldn’t have had to go looking for her. I wouldn’t have found Reeve. And while knowing him –
loving
him – might be the death of both Amber and myself, it was an end I would walk toward with my head held high.

“It all worked out okay,” she said in a halfheartedly reassuring tone. “He let me go, and then I ran to Micha. Which was just as cowardly, and, in many ways, just as suicidal. Especially if he decides he isn’t done with me.”

My stomach lurched as Amber voiced the very thing I’d been concerned about. “Do you think he’ll come after you?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Probably not. I’m sure I’m just being melodramatic.”

She sounded like she was trying to convince herself as much as me. “I’m just lucky Reeve is still willing to take me back in after I went to Micha just to piss him off.”

Lucky,
yes. Not loved, as I feared. Just lucky. “How did you even know that would make him mad?”

“It’s a long story.” She glanced at me and must have realized I wouldn’t accept that for an answer, so she went on. “He’d been at a social event Reeve had taken me to. Reeve hadn’t known Micha would be there, and they saw each other. There was a confrontation. Micha cornered me and said, ‘If you’re ever tired of him…’ Blah, blah, blah. He was just another dirty, rich old man, you know? I blew him off. But then when I left Kaya, he was there. I mean he was right there, in town. Like he was waiting for an opportunity to, I don’t know, get at Reeve. I made a snap decision. And I regretted it.”

“He was waiting for you? That should have been a sign that he was not a good guy right there.” I didn’t hide my frustration.

“I had nowhere else to go, Em.”

I shifted my whole body toward her. “You could have come to me.” If she’d thought of me long enough to call, then she could have thought about running to me instead.

“I couldn’t,” she said emphatically. “Not after I sent you away like I did. I’d been horrible to you, and I didn’t deserve your forgiveness or your pity hospitality, which was what you would have given me.” She pointed a stern finger in my direction. “Don’t try to deny it.”

“I sure as hell will deny it. I would have helped you and it wouldn’t have been out of pity.”

“Yes. It would have. Then you would have been right where you’d been when I’d last seen you. Like you are now.” She stood up and faced me. “You’re so much better than this kind of life, Emily. I knew it, and that’s why I pushed you away, and then you went and proved that it was the right thing to do. I never meant to drag you back here.”

One phrase caught in my head:
“that’s why I pushed you away.”

But she’d sent me away because of Bridge. Because she’d thought I’d stolen her boyfriend. Hadn’t she?

The question that I’d buried for so long came to surface, demanding to be asked, even though I already knew the answer. Even though I knew asking it now would change everything I’d held on to for these past six years. “You believed me when I told you Bridge raped me, didn’t you?”

Her face screwed up, as if the truth were as painful for her as it was for me. “Yes,” she said, her voice raw. “Of course, I believed you. He was a psychopath, and I left him ten minutes after you were gone.”

And just like that, the fable I’d held on to for all those years crumbled in front of me. It was a truth I’d known somewhere deep inside but hadn’t wanted to acknowledge. It had been easier to walk away when she and I had been at odds. If I’d let myself believe that she’d been on my side the whole time, I’d have never left.

I opened my mouth to speak, but she guessed my question and cut me off. “And don’t ask me why. You know why.”

It was another truth I hadn’t wanted to face. Even now I had to hear her say it before I could accept it. So I shook my head and stayed silent.

She heaved a sigh. “Because you wanted to leave and I was holding you back.”

I let my mind go back to that time, trying to see it from her point of view. I’d been pregnant. I’d gone to stay with her until I got on my feet. I’d been planning to get a job and take care of myself.

“No.” I shook my head more vigorously. “You weren’t holding me back at all.”

“How can you say that? If you hadn’t come to stay with me, Bridge would never…” She let her sentence trail away. Let the silence give us time to fill in the awful conclusion.
He would never have raped me. He would never have put scissors inside me. He would never have caused my miscarriage.

“You can’t blame yourself for that.” My declaration felt weak. How many times had I blamed myself? “You
helped
me. You were there when I needed someone.”

“And you couldn’t see that I was in no shape to be the strong one. You wanted me to save you.
Me
. A coked-out party girl who’d hooked up with a violent asshole. You thought I was the person to lean on?” Her tone was bitter and compassionate all at once.

She took a breath and her next words were softer. “You had enough money to set yourself up. You would have gotten a job in modeling and you would have had your baby.” Her voice lilted up with emotion. “You would have been better off. You
were
better off.”

“I wasn’t better off. I was half a person. I was miserable.” Every day without her had been a battle. Even when I’d gotten my life together, I’d been empty. I’d been alone.

She scoffed. “Well, you made out pretty swell for someone who was miserable.”

I threw my head back and closed my eyes. All the horrible things I’d imagined about myself because she’d cut me off came flooding back. I’d told myself she couldn’t handle my addiction to men who were bad for me. I’d convinced myself that my sexual proclivities were so terrible that she’d decided I wasn’t worth the trouble.

“I’d thought I’d become a burden to you,” I said, straightening to look at her. “So many times before you could have settled and been happy if it hadn’t been for me.”

She gave a brusque laugh. “That’s not me, Emily. I’m not someone who wants to settle.” She let a beat pass. “At least, I wasn’t back then. When Reeve proposed, for the first time, the idea sounded kind of nice. I was just too scared to accept it.”

Her words were knives, slicing at me and the visions I’d had of a future with Reeve. Wounding any chance of repairing our friendship. What I wanted warred with what was best and every option in front of me led down a road I had no desire to go down.

But there had been so much honesty in the air already. The floodgates were open, and truth flowed off my tongue, without me even feeling like I’d chosen it. “Amber, I seduced him.” There it was – the worst truth of it all.

And wasn’t ironic? For years, believing she’d blamed me for taking her man. My vow to never let it happen again. Me, forced to do the thing that had torn us apart so that I could get her back. Now I learned that she’d never thought that about me at all.

It felt like a catch-22. Like I’d never had a choice but to become the person she’d led me to believe I was. I didn’t even get to enjoy the release of guilt before I had to admit that, even though I didn’t deserve the blame she’d put on me then, I did deserve it now.

My excuses held no water, but, with my head hung, I made them anyway. “I had to. To get to you. To try to find you, I seduced him.”

“I know.” Her voice was steady yet soft. “I already know.”

My head flew up in surprise. “You do?”

“Well, yeah,” she said, as if it had been obvious. “You couldn’t have gotten past that front gate any other way.”

Exactly. Which was why I’d done it. And yet I still felt so terrible about it. “I’m sorry.”

“Why?” Her expression was incredulous. “For doing what you had to in order to find me? I’m grateful! No one has ever done anything like that for me before. It’s only because of you that I’m still standing here. I know Micha didn’t hurt me enough to kill me that last time, but if I hadn’t gotten out, he would have eventually. It’s only because of you that I’m here.” She corrected herself. “Well, and Joe, but he told me you’d hired him to find me so that still counts as you.”

Now I knew what she meant about feeling unqualified to be a savior. Because I’d given up my search. I’d told Joe to stop investigating. He’d gone to Vilanakis on his own. “No,” I protested. “It wasn’t me.”

Again, she ignored me. “And imagine what a total asshole I feel like. Because I made you be that person again. I made you return to the very thing I wanted you away from. Trust me when I say it’s the last thing I wanted. I’m drowning under that guilt.”

“Stop it,” I said, standing, needing to meet her eye-to-eye. “Don’t you dare feel guilty. You came after me so many times. Saved my ass. Got me on my feet again. I
owed
you.”

She rolled her eyes so vehemently that her entire head swept with them. “You didn’t owe me shit. We were even and now
I
owe
you
.” She took one step toward me, taking a determined stance. “I’m going to pay you back, eventually. Someday. Somehow.”

“You don’t owe me.” I still couldn’t figure out how she’d thought we’d been even before. “There’s nothing to —”

“There is and I will.” Her tone said there would be no more arguing about it.

“Then pay me back by saving yourself, for once!” I snapped. “Stop with the bullshit life. Grow up! Think about your future. Make some goddamned plans.”

Her expression said she was stunned, and frankly, I was as well. I’d never talked to her like that. Never tried to suggest I knew what was best for her. Never realized how fiercely I resented the lifestyle we’d both once called our own.

But a dam had broken inside of me, and I couldn’t hold any of it back if I wanted to. She thought about killing herself? It broke my heart – it did. But if her life was so miserable, then why was she still repeating the same mistakes over and over? Why didn’t she at least try to get out? It wasn’t fair for her to talk to me about being scared of happiness, about being indebted to other people, as if she were the only person in the world who’d felt those things. As if she were the only one of the two of us that had it hard.

But I was a hypocrite.

Because even after I’d changed my circumstances, I’d still felt insecure and empty. So who was I to tell Amber about progress?

“I’m sorry.” I turned away from her, not wanting her to see from my expression how much of a sham my life was. “It’s not my place to lecture you.”

“No. You’re right.” Her tone had an edge to it that wasn’t there before, an edge that could simply be attributed to the rawness of her admission. Or maybe it was a sign that she was just as resentful of me as I feared she was.

Behind me, I heard her take a step, felt her moving closer toward me. Goose bumps rose along my arms and my neck tingled as I realized how near the edge I was. How easy it would be for her to push me off, if she wanted to. If she were
that
resentful.

It was a lunatic idea and I didn’t really think she had any intention of harming me, but because the thought crossed my mind, I jumped when I felt her hand land on my shoulder.

I giggled nervously and pivoted toward her, wishing I had something solid to lean up against for no other reason but to steady the dizzy buzz of adrenaline.

BOOK: Last Kiss
13.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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