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Authors: Layla Hagen

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Coming of Age, #Romance, #Contemporary, #New Adult & College

Lost in Us (10 page)

BOOK: Lost in Us
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"No, if it's in the garage in the morning it's fine. I don't need it now. Good evening to you too, Daniel."

"I always thought being an entrepreneur was all about ramen noodles and living in shared apartments."

He looks up at me and smirks. "It is in the beginning. If it's still like that after a few years, you don't know what you're doing."

"I'm sure you avoided that dreadful beginning, no?" I ask sardonically. "Isn't that the purpose of a trust fund?"

"Judgmental much?" He raises an eyebrow, but doesn't seem upset in the slightest.

"I'm just being realistic."

He stares at me intently for a few seconds, then empties his glass and says, "I busted my entire trust fund in college."

My jaw drops. "Are you serious?"

"My father was even less impressed than you are," he says with a wink.

"I bet. How on earth did you manage that?"

"I was something of an expert at spending exorbitant amounts of money. Luckily, running out of them taught me quickly how to make money, too. I sold my first company after two years." He raises his empty glass. "Something to drink?"

"Orange juice is fine," I say, still stunned.

We move to the kitchen, which is separated from the living room by a glass wall, and looks like it's never been used, with the exception of the fridge. When he opens it, I have a vision of what my own fridge would look like if I weren't living with Jess—full of unhealthy drinks and takeout boxes.

"So where did you get the initial investment?"

James shoves a glass of orange juice toward me. "Parker and Natalie were my first investors," he says nonchalantly and I choke in my glass. “They both own stocks in the company I have now too.”

"Damn. Just when I was about to start admiring you for making it on your own," I tease, taking another sip of juice and hoping that my sudden apprehension isn't visible.

He lowers his glass, revealing his trademark smile, more conceited than ever. Before I realize what's going on, his arms are around my waist, his lips whispering in my ear, "I've got other means of impressing you."

And it's here again. Or maybe it never left me. The ardent, almost painful craving. My body makes no secret of it—the skin on my entire body burns, and my hips press against his without me ever ordering them to do so.

I expect him to run his fingers up the inside of my thighs, like he always does when he wants me. Instead, he lets go of me and gestures for me to follow him.

"Come on, there's something I want to show you."

"For your sake, I hope it's another bedroom."

"You never get enough, do you?" He chuckles and takes my hand, dragging me through the penthouse. We pass door after door, and stop in front of the only entry I'm sure doesn't lead to a bedroom—a sliding door.

"Close your eyes."

"I'd rather not," I say nervously.

"Trust me," he says in a playful voice. "You'll like this more than the bedroom. In fact, you'll like it so much I'm afraid I'll have some convincing to do to get you out of there again."

"Okay, now I trust you even less," I stutter, but close my eyes.

The unmistakable sound of the door sliding open follows and then he half-guides, half-pushes me forward a few feet.

"Open your eyes."

"No way," I cry. 

Five rows of comfortable, red armchairs complete with support for plastic cups unravel before me. On the wall in front of them is a huge screen.

"Is this a real screening room?" I ask in a strangled voice.

"Yes it is,” he brags. "Want to see the movie collection?"

"This really is the best evening ever," I say as he opens the computer resting on a small table behind the last row of chairs.

Three minutes later, I'm immersed in the movie database, hardly believing my eyes. 

"You look like you've stumbled upon a gold mine," James says.

"I can't believe there's a bigger movie freak than me," I say. "Do you have every movie ever made in here?"

"That's the goal," he retorts.

"Damn, and I was so proud of my DVD collection," I say.

"How many do you have?"

"3,132. 3,131 actually, because I loaned
Fight Club
to the French exchange student that was living next door last year, and she never bothered to return it," I say angrily. "Oh my God, you've got
The Lion King
."

"Of all movies, you're impressed with
The Lion King
?"

"Mufasa dying gets to me every time," I say.

"Me too," he admits. "So what do you want to watch?"

"I get to choose what we watch?" I say, restraining myself as much as possible from clapping my hands, because that would be even more childish than swooning at the sight of
The Lion King
.

"Of course you get to choose. I guess the bedroom lost the battle already," he says, wrapping his arms around me.

"Umm, just for a little while, I promise." I struggle to keep my voice even as he bites my earlobe softly. "I love your penthouse," I murmur.

"You can come here anytime," he whispers in a raspy voice.

His invitation has the unexpected effect of turning my stomach to ice. With a pang, I realize why. There can be only one reason why he made the invitation so easily. It's one he often extends. To old lovers, like Natalie, and to almost strangers, like me. What a bitter thought… Natalie in his arms. 

"Let's see if I find a movie I've never heard of," I say, scrolling down the endless list of movies. I have heard of all of them. I've seen most of them once. Some even twice.

And then I stumble upon one I haven't watched in years.
Nine
, to be exact. I was in a far less fancy room than this one when I watched it, with my favorite person in the world. Kate.

A tear trickles down my cheek and I wipe it away as quickly as I can, but James sees it.

"Serena, what’s the…?"

"Nothing," I answer and turn away, because I can feel more tears forming behind my eyelids.

James wraps his arms around me, and for once, I wish he wouldn't, because it makes withholding the tears so much harder.

"You can tell me anything," he says in a low, warm voice.

His words shatter all my defenses. Before I know it, sobs choke me and words start pouring out of my mouth. Words I have never uttered before, not even to myself, let alone to another living soul. They speak of pain and guilt. And of the agony of missing her every single day.

It's a while before I notice we're sitting on the floor, James leaning against the wall and me, curled up in his arms, resting my head on his chest. There's something calming about listening to his heartbeats, echoing so clearly in the silence between us. Then the realization of what really happened hits me and it occurs to me that the silence might be because I completely freaked him out with my meltdown.

"I'm so sorry," I gasp, cold dread starting to creep in. "That was so silly of me."

"Don't apologize," he says, planting a soft kiss on my head.

"It happened so long ago, and I never talk about it…"

"Doesn't matter when it happened," he says softly. "The pain never really goes away. You just learn to survive with it."

My heart skips a beat. He's the first person to tell me what I knew all along. What Jess, Michael, even my mother have vehemently denied. They always said I should give it time, because time heals everything. What a lie. It's a lie we tell others when we can't find the right words to say. It's a lie we tell ourselves in the darkest of times, in the hope that it'll help us crawl out of the giant abyss of despair.

It didn't help me, so I stopped repeating that to myself after a while. I put on the widest smile I could muster so others would cease chanting the blasphemy as well.

I'm grateful for James's honesty. It's liberating. And maybe it's his honesty, or the fact that I've never felt safer or more deeply understood than at this moment, that causes the thought plaguing my nightmares, the root of my guilt, to slip out.

"If I'd looked more closely after her," I whisper, my voice trembling so hard with the effort of withholding tears that I nearly can't understand myself.

He does, though. And he pulls me closer to him, caressing my cheeks with the back of his fingers.

"Then maybe she would have lived a day, a month, a year longer. But how much longer, Serena? You can't be someone's guardian angel forever," he says firmly.

Guardian angel
… The words bring back a very old memory. I was ten when Kate's problems began. I didn't understand what was going on, I just knew that my sister wasn't behaving like my sister anymore. So I used to pray every night after my mother tucked me in bed, asking my guardian angel to leave me and go at Kate's side, because her angel seemed to be a tad overwhelmed. When it became clear to me that either my guardian angel wasn't listening to me, or she had listened to me but she too was overwhelmed, I decided to take the matter in my own hands. Some help I turned out to be.

"Don't blame yourself for something that was out of your control. There was no other end to the path she'd taken."

"Maybe," I say, "but it didn't have to end that day."

"Any other day would've hurt you just as much. Do you have nightmares?"

I shudder in his arms. How can he know?

"Sometimes," I admit, "but not very often."

The truth is, I do have them often. But I can't bring myself to say out loud that I have them at least twice a week. All I can hope is tonight of all nights, I won't wake up in the pitch-black darkness drenched in sweat, pulling the bed sheets in my clenched fists. Yet as I lie here, cuddled against his chest, I suddenly know I won't. The certainty of it scares me almost more than the perception of having a nightmare. Because I don't need one more reason to dread the moment when I won't be in his arms anymore.

"You're a remarkable person," James says, and the suppressed tension in his voice sends cold jitters down my back. "To carry all that pain and not lose yourself on the way."

I freeze in the act of caressing his bare chest. What kind of hurt did he see in me in that bar? One of a betrayed and abandoned lover, or something more? Did he see the pain that no one else sees? The one I carried with me for so long, I almost don't see it myself?

"I didn't really have a choice."

He gives a humorless laugh. "There's always a choice, Serena. And trust me, most people don't choose your way."

"What do most people choose?" I raise my head slightly, searching for his eyes, but he's looking in the opposite direction. Something tells me the real question is,
What did you choose?

And it finally dawns on me why he can see the pain, why he knows about the nightmares. He, too, lost someone. In a different way, but he did. He must have loved Lara very much to still feel her leaving him so deeply. With a pang, I realize he must have loved her much more than I loved Michael. How else could I claim that I all but buried my grief in less than a month when he still mourns after years?

I run a finger along his neck and he turns toward me, gazing at me with kind yet determined eyes. I know he won't tell me anything. Not tonight. Another time, if I'm lucky, I'll hear his story. I will learn about his pain, and maybe I will be able to soothe his wounds the way he soothed mine.

Maybe, just maybe then he'll forget her.

"So, what's it gonna be?" I ask playfully. "
The Lion King
? Or do you prefer
The Godfather
?"

"Your wish is my command," he answers in an equally playful tone, planting gentle kisses on my neck, then gets up, pulling me after him.

Natalie's warning plays in my head as we head to the computer, hand in hand, and I know she was right. I am the center of his world tonight.

But what about tomorrow?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

T
he longer I stand on the burning pavement, the more tempted I am to jump in the fountain in front of the Stanford Memorial Auditorium. The fact that almost one thousand students will witness my rule breaking doesn't seem reason enough not to do it. The fine I'd get for doing it does, though. But the rivulets of sweat forming on my back might make even the fine seem insignificant in a few minutes.

"I still don't get why you dragged me to this conference. I don't care about the economic downturn or whatever crap they always talk about," Jess complains, holding her notebook on the side of her face, in a poor attempt to block the blinding sun.

"It's not about the downturn. And listening to some smart people won't hurt you," I say, still eying the fountain. I take a sip from my ice-cold smoothie, the only thing standing between me and a jump in the fountain.

"Smart is relative. I should be preparing for my phone interview tomorrow."

Jess's job search has been going so much better than mine. She credits it to her vision board, a complex extension of her own pink
What I Want to Do in My Life
paper. I credit it to her mind-blowing confidence, which makes her apply for jobs that she isn't half-qualified for. And get interviews for almost all of them.

BOOK: Lost in Us
10.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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