Read Toxic Online

Authors: Kim Karr

Toxic (10 page)

She breathed in a heavy sigh. “That summer was out of control. I’m still sorry I missed being there for you.”

I cradled my head in my hands, the heft of all my own issues weighing me down.

“What’s going on in that head of yours?” Lily asked. “You left the Rose Bar last night on cloud nine.”

I looked up. “I don’t remember a thing from last night after Lars shoved Jamie to the ground and the cocktail waitress brought me to the ladies’ room.”

Lily made a face. “So you said. I just don’t get it.”

“Me either.”

“Do you think someone slipped you a Roofie?”

“At the Rose Bar? I doubt it.”

“Never put it past anyone. Did you drink anything after you left our table?”

I thought long and hard until a vision flashed before me. Lars shoving a wineglass in my hand. Me drinking all of it. My mouth dropped. “Oh my God.”

“What?”

“Lars. Lars gave me a glass of wine. You don’t think he would?” I didn’t have to finish.

Lily drew in a breath. “I wouldn’t put it past him.”

Then I remembered Jeremy handing me a glass of water. “Jeremy gave me water too.”

“Do you think he would have done that?”

“No. But I doubt Lars would have either.”

She shrugged. “I have to agree.”

“Honestly Lily, I think I just had too much to drink.”

“Maybe but I have to say that you seemed fine. You were—”

I didn’t let her finish. “I was what?”

She shrugged. “Determined.”

I gave her a questioning look. “What do you mean?”

“Dawson wanted to take you home, but you insisted on having Jeremy drive you.”

Maybe I’d just had too much to drink then.

“What happened with Dawson and Jeremy?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I was with you in the restroom when that conversation took place. Honestly, no one was going to talk you out of letting Jeremy bring you home, not even Dawson. So after Dawson left, I talked to Jeremy and so did Logan. He seemed on the up-and-up and promised to get you home safely.”

“Well, I guess he did but for some reason I didn’t stay. Either way, I woke up in his bed!”

Just then the waitress set our coffees down and I gave her a smile, as my cheeks turned pink for the second time that morning.

“Okay, so you had sex with him. It was obvious you wanted to sleep with him so what’s the big deal?”

“What’s the big deal? I don’t remember it and just to be clear, I don’t know if we did it.”

“Why didn’t you just ask him?”

“Because he acted like a complete asshole this morning and I took off.”

“Two mimosas and a basket of muffins,” the waitress said cheerily as she set the items on the table.

I smiled at her again as my blush bloomed even brighter.

“Anything else?”

“I think we’re good,” Lily replied and then redirected her attention to me. “What exactly did he say that made him out to be an asshole?”

“It was the way he looked at me.” Well, it was something else too, but I couldn’t tell her that—it was just too embarrassing.

“He seemed fine last night. What happened to cause the mood shift?”

I poured cream in my coffee and stirred it. “I have no idea.”

“You really don’t know if you slept with him?”

“I really don’t,” I sighed.

“Then you have to call him.”

“No way. You don’t understand.”

“Oh, I think I do. You told me the entire story last night, over and over, in detail I might add.”

I sipped my coffee and almost choked. “What did I tell you that you didn’t already know?”

“Just that you thought he was your great love.” She leaned toward me. “It’s not like I wouldn’t have liked to know that or anything.”

“Lily, I was drunk. Ignore what I said.”

“Muffin?” she asked, passing me the basket.

“No! I can’t eat. Why are you acting like none of this is a big deal?”

“Because Jeremy McQueen is back in your life.” She smiled. “And I think your life is about to get back on track.” She added a wink.

I rolled my eyes. “Please don’t spin this into one of your tragic love stories.”

“Oh, St. Claire, I don’t have to spin it into anything. It already is.”

“I told you, he isn’t interested in me.”

She tilted her head. “I’m not so sure.”

“Well, even if he was, which he isn’t, maybe I’m not interested in him.”

She snickered. Actually snickered. “He is the first guy that brought you to orgasm.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “So?”

“It has to mean something.”

I shook my head. “Focus. I have to call Dawson back.”

“So call him back.”

“I have no idea what to say to him.”

She popped a piece of muffin in her mouth. “Tell him the truth—the man who brought you endless pleasure is back in your life.”

“Lily, you’re riding my last nerve. Could you please take this seriously?”

She tilted her head. “Phoebe, I am. It’s just I don’t want you to blow this by focusing on the wrong thing.”

Frustrated, I glared at her. “There’s nothing to blow.”

Just then my phone beeped. I glanced at the screen. It was a text.

From him.

Him: You shouldn’t have left.

Me: You were an asshole.

Him: I know and I’m sorry. We need to talk.

Me: There’s nothing to talk about.

Him: When can I see you?

I wanted to text, “Never.” I thought about texting, “Now.” But the first seemed too final and the second seemed too needy, so I didn’t reply at all. Honestly, I was pissed. Pissed for the way he treated me. Pissed at him for coming back into my life. I’d moved on. And pissed that I was considering putting myself out there again and talking to him.

“Who is it?” Lily asked.

My eyes flicked up. “It’s him.”

She practically squealed, “Let me see.”

I handed her my phone and then attempted to twist my butterfly ring but my finger was so swollen that it wouldn’t turn.

I started to cry.

Lily set my phone down and reached across the table. “Hey, I’m sorry. Talk to me.”

I took a sip of my mimosa. “He crushed me—again.”

“You have to talk to him.”

I dabbed at my tears. “No, I don’t.”

She twisted her lips. “Phoebe. You do.”

“He was an asshole,” I blurted out. “And I can’t.”

“Yes, you can. He wants to talk to you. And he’s your great love. You have to give him a second chance.”

I sniffed and shook my head. “No, I don’t.”

“Call him. Talk to him. See what’s going on. You owe yourself that much.”

“What about Dawson?”

Lily reached for another muffin and cut it in half. As she spread apricot preserves on it she said, “You have to talk to him too.”

I took the other half of her muffin. “You make it sound so easy.”

Lily sighed. “You have to let him go and focus on Jeremy.”

“I already let him go and why would I focus on someone as rude as Jeremy McQueen?”

She eyed me. “One person at a time. First, you never really let Dawson go. Tell him in no uncertain terms the two of you are over. Over. Over. Do I have to say it again?”

I shot her a look. “No, I get it.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Are you sure?”

I made a face.

Lily bounced right back. “Okay, moving on to Jeremy. So, he was an asswipe. Maybe you did something to set him off. He always was moody. At least talk to him and find out. What do you have to lose?”

I knew her question was rhetorical, so I remained quiet. But I wanted to say a lot. My pride. My mind. My heart. Everything.

She chattered on. “And like I’ve always said, great loves only transpire through tragedy.”

I just looked at her.

Maybe this time she was right.

CHAPTER 10

The Park

The cathedral-like canopy of the elms in the Mall of Central Park was magical and always made me feel so much better. It was my favorite place to be, especially in the fall. This time of year, the leaves’ vibrancy provided a colorful path to follow all the way to the Bethesda Terrace. I usually ran the path early in the morning when the dew was thick. Some mornings I would stop and sit by the fountain, just to stare at the angel who held a flower in one hand.

When I was younger, my nanny told me that she represented health and purity. Ever since then, whenever I felt troubled, I’d go to sit by the
Angel of the Waters
and let her try to ease my worries.

I felt the urge to make my way toward her today.

After I left Lily to her shopping, I had to clear my head. As I looked up and down the path, orange and yellow leaves surrounded me but that day, they didn’t lift my spirits. In fact, I felt lost again. I didn’t know what to do.

I walked and walked but it wasn’t at the angel where I ended up. I had wandered and stopped just outside the Delacorte Theater. I blinked when I found myself staring at the
Romeo and Juliet
statue.

Was it a sign? I had to laugh despite my emotional anguish. I found a bench and sat down.

Shifting my gaze from the screen of my phone to the tragic couple, I couldn’t decide whom I should call first, but then my phone rang, and I didn’t have to decide.

“Hi, Dawson.”

“Phoebe, are you okay?”

I took a deep breath. “I’m fine.”

“Where are you?” He sounded worried but I knew he would be.

“I’m in the park.”

“Can I meet you?”

I looked at the statue that represented great love and knew I couldn’t meet him where I was, but I did owe it to him to talk to him in person. “I’ll come over.”

“When?”

“Now.”

“Do you want me to send a car?”

“No, I want to walk. I’ll be there soon.”

Once we hung up, I glanced at the statue one more time. The pose seemed so simple—two lovers about to kiss. Romeo bent over Juliet with her head thrown back. The simplicity of the sculpture seemed to lend an innocence to the moment captured in time.

My phone beeped and my thoughts scattered. When I glanced down, I saw it was a text from Jeremy.

Him: We need to talk. Where can I meet you?

I ignored his text and looked again at Romeo and Juliet. Dawson and I had shared many innocent moments like that, whereas with Jeremy, passion totally consumed us. I walked away from the statue, continuing to turn back and steal glances until I could no longer see it.

Who was my Romeo? Did I have one?

Dawson lived on East Fifty-fifth Street and I took my time walking there. My feet were starting to throb, and I wished I’d put ballet flats on and not worn heeled boots. What was I thinking?

By the time I reached the elegant lobby of his building, the elevator to the penthouse had never looked so good.

When I walked into the giant space, Dawson was leaning over the counter, reading the paper. Next to him sat a bottle of my favorite pinot grigio, with a glass already poured and sitting on the green marble countertop.

I felt like I hadn’t been there in so long. The ten-foot ceilings and glass expanse allowed so much natural light in. And the wide plank bleached oak floors also contributed to the airy feeling. Of course, the place was decorated with the most modern of pieces. Dawson prided himself on the decor. And he should—the place really was beautiful. Yet to me it always felt a little cold. It looked like something that belonged in the Museum of Modern Art, not a place where someone lived.

Dawson grabbed the wineglass and walked toward me. “Are you okay?”

I nodded without speaking.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” I said, suddenly not sure what else to say.

He dropped his gaze. “Why did you insist on leaving with him?”

I merely shrugged. I didn’t know why. I hated to tell him that.

Cordially, he kissed me on the cheek and then handed me the glass. “Come on, let’s sit down.”

The distressed mocha leather sofa was huge and I sat where I always did—on the end with the footrest. He sat a few cushions to my left.

Concern etched his features. “Phoebe, did you know he was back in town?”

“No, I didn’t. But how did you know it was him?”

“The look in your eyes was enough but as soon as his name was mentioned, I knew for certain.”

“But who else knew who he was?” I found it hard to believe Jeremy ran in our circuit.

Uncomfortable, Dawson rubbed his hands on his wool slacks. “You know what? This is harder to discuss than I thought it would be.”

I nodded. He was right—it was.

“But you’re okay?”

“I am.”

“And I’m assuming you’ve talked to him and now you’re going to stay away from him?”

“I am,” I said again. My conviction sounded weak though.

“He’s not good for you. You know that?”

I just looked at him.

“You look so tired.”

“I am, I’m exhausted actually.”

He pulled my feet onto his lap. “I wanted to call you yesterday, but I wasn’t sure if that was a good idea so I texted you instead.”

I sipped my wine and met his stare. “I’m sorry I didn’t respond. I wasn’t sure what to say. I thought about calling you but I wasn’t sure about that either.”

He unzipped one of my boots. “I get it.”

“Dawson.” My voice had a warning tone.

“What? I can tell your feet are killing you. But if you’d rather leave them on.” He started to zip it back up.

“No, you’re right. Go ahead.”

He took them both off and set them neatly beside his feet on the floor.

My socks were mix-matched and he laughed at them.

I grinned. “I was in a hurry.”

“Clearly,” he laughed.

“About yesterday,” I said. “It was weird. I kept thinking about you all day.” I needed to clarify in what way.

His fingers began to massage my feet and it felt so good. “And?”

“I don’t know. The day just felt off.” May be that was the wrong way to explain.

“It did to me too.”

I was leading him down the wrong path. Nothing was coming out of it. I set my wineglass on the end table but had nothing else to add. I should keep my mouth shut.

“Do you still think you made the right decision?”

“Dawson. Nothing’s changed. But now I think we can both move on.” So much for keeping my mouth shut.

He swallowed and looked at me with sudden scrutiny. “Is this ‘time to move on’ thing about him?”

I pulled a pillow closer and let my head fall back on the armrest. “I assume you mean Jeremy.”

“You know I do.”

“No. It has nothing to do with him. It’s just time.”

Pressure hit my toes and it tickled a little. I wiggled my toes but he braced his arm over my legs. “Relax,” he said.

I did.

“You’re sure you hadn’t seen him before? I mean since we broke up?”

My eyes met his. “No, I haven’t. I’d tell you if I did.”

“Then why did you insist on him taking you home? You could have talked there.”

I sat up. “I don’t know. Honestly, I have no idea why I would have done that.”

“What do you mean?” He sounded alarmed now.

I hadn’t wanted to tell him but knew I had to.

“I don’t remember anything after Lars tackled Jamie. I think I had too much to drink. But you have to know, I’d never do anything to hurt you on purpose.”

He stopped massaging my foot. “Did he . . . take advantage of you?”

I swallowed, remembering the way my clothes were folded neatly on his dresser, similar to the way Dawson had just set my boots down. “No, I don’t think so.”

A darkness bloomed across his features. “If he did, we’ll press charges.”

I squeezed his hand. “Dawson, I’m fine. And besides, it seems I went of my own free will.”

“That doesn’t matter. If you weren’t of sound mind, it would be rape.”

“Dawson! No!”

He squared his shoulders “Of course it’s your decision.”

“Like I said, we didn’t sleep together.”

“No, you said you didn’t know.”

“Well, I’m almost certain we didn’t.”

“Do you want me to take you to a doctor?”

I shook my head.

He nodded. “How did you feel seeing him again?”

I took another sip of my wine. “Can we not talk about this?”

“Did he explain his disappearance that summer?”

So much for not talking about it.

I fell back to my pillow and closed my eyes. “Not that I remember.”

“I have someone looking into where he’s been, what he’s been doing.”

My eyes popped open. “Why would you do that?”

“To protect you.”

I furrowed my brows. “No, please stop them. I don’t want to know. And Jeremy’s not going to hurt me.”

“I’m not so sure about that.”

I looked at him. He had that same strange look in his eyes.

“Well, if you change your mind, the investigator is discreet and fast.”

I drew my features together. “I said no. And you didn’t say how you knew who Jeremy was.”

He just shrugged. “Word gets around.”

His stories seemed mismatched. I didn’t quite believe him.

But then he started massaging my feet again. “How’s this?”

“Mmmm,” I moaned and soon began to drift off.

Dawson and I were friends before we became lovers and we always talked about everything but talking about another man with him after all that transpired between us didn’t seem appropriate, so I let the conversation go.

My phone ringing in my purse woke me up. A blanket covered me and I tossed it aside as I fumbled to the floor to find it. “Hello?”

“Phoebs, it’s me,” Jamie said.

I stood up to stretch. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. A little buzz cut and stitches never hurt anyone.”

“I can’t believe that happened to you.”

“Lars the fucker. He’s such an asshole.”

“I can’t argue that.”

“The fucker called and apologized though.”

“What did he say?”

Jamie gave a dry laugh. “That he might have had too much to drink and that he was sorry.”

“Might? That’s an understatement.”

“Anyway, how are you?”

Dawson walked in the room with a towel around his neck and his workout clothes on. I mouthed, “It’s Jamie.”

He bobbed his chin. “Is he okay?”

I nodded.

“I’m fine. Just tired,” I told Jamie.

“Where are you?”

“I’m at Dawson’s.”

“What the fuck?”

I looked at my watch and ignored his comment. “I’m headed home to get ready for tonight.”

“What the hell are you doing there?”

“What do you mean?”

“After the scene last night.”

I walked over toward the window. “What are you talking about?”

“Come on, Phoebs. You left with Jeremy last night after practically begging him to take you home, and now you’re at your ex-fiancé’s?”

I cringed at the use of the word beg. “Let’s talk tonight.”

“I’m not going to make it, but tomorrow I want answers.”

“What? Why?”

“I still feel like shit and the ballet isn’t a cure-all, that’s for damn sure.”

I laughed. “Not for you, I know. Lunch tomorrow?”

“You bet. Usual spot at noon.”

“I hope you feel better. ’Bye, Jamie.”

“And Phoebs, I didn’t mean to sound harsh. I’m just worried about you.”

“I know.” I pressed
END
and tucked my phone in my pocket.

The city looked so much smaller from up here. I couldn’t feel the crispness of the air or see the leaves that showered down from the trees but I could sense the hustle and bustle that never ceased. I loved this city and couldn’t believe there was a time I ever thought about leaving.

“Stay here tonight. I’ll order sushi and we can watch a movie,” Dawson said. I hadn’t realized he was still in the room.

I turned to face him. “I can’t. I have the Glitter Gala. You know that.”

“Do you think you could cancel?”

“Dawson, I can’t.”

He crossed the room. He was sweaty from his workout and didn’t like to touch me before he showered, so he kept his distance. “I miss you.”

“Dawson, please don’t. Nothing has changed between us.”

“You don’t know that unless you give us another chance. Things change all the time. Let me at least take you out for dinner this week.”

“I thought we agreed to move on.”

He looked pained. “No. You did.” His voice left no doubt that he wasn’t ready to move on.

Saddened, I looked at him. “Dawson, it’s for the best.”

He shook his head. “Not for me. When we broke up I agreed to give you time. And I’m still going to. I’m not ready to give up on you.”

There was nothing else to say. We’d had this conversation so many ways when we broke up and I feared this time would end no differently.

I went to pick up my wineglass and take it to the sink, but it was already gone so instead I sat down and pulled my boots on. “Have you talked to Lars?”

He nodded. “He feels bad.”

I assumed Lars didn’t tell Dawson about propositioning me and I didn’t want to hurt him any more, so I didn’t either. I stood up and looked at him. “I’ll call you. I have a lot going on at work this week.”

“I know,” he said apologetically.

“I should have gone into the office today.”

“Let me help you.”

I shook my head. Pouring more money into my family business wasn’t the solution—not long-term anyway.

He took a cautious step forward and kissed me gently on the cheek. “I’ll wait for your call.”

I felt terrible leaving without making it crystal clear there was no future between us. My feelings toward him hadn’t changed. And I knew they wouldn’t. Sure, I missed him. But it was my friend I missed. Not my lover. I couldn’t even ask him what he and Jeremy argued about because instinctively, I knew it was me. I wasn’t afraid of what Dawson might have asked him, but I did fear how Jeremy might have answered him.

My phone rang again as I stepped into the elevator. It was Jeremy’s number. I knew it by then. I thought about assigning his name to the number but thought better of it. I should erase all signs of him instead. And with that fact in mind, I ignored his call.

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