Read the entire first scene of volume 3 here!
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Love is . . . giving someone the ability to destroy you.
But trusting them not to.
Bea had just dropped a bombshell question, and while I was unreasonably consumed with guilt, without hesitation, I answered, “Of course I’m not having an affair with Aaron! Oh my God, Bea. Why would you think that?”
“You two are going to Milwaukee for the weekend?” Her words were a mixture of accusatory but still a bit unsure.”
“Yes, for a trade show,” I said, glancing back at Edi, who was staring at me, but I couldn’t make out what she might be thinking.
My heart beat wildly. I knew I’d done nothing wrong. I knew I had no intention of doing anything wrong. So why did the guilt feel so unyielding? Bea was in near tears, and with another glance in Edi’s direction, I could see my girlfriend was just as anxious.
“Mia said . . .” Bea took a deep breath as if she’d suddenly calmed. “Mia was upset. She said she asked Aaron to cancel his trip. She’s noticed a change in him again. Just like before when he broke up with her the first time. I have too. Only this time she says it feels worse. It’s gotten even more noticeable in the last few weeks. They’re hardly together anymore, and she said today when she walked in on you guys—”
“We were just talking. That’s all we were doing,” I said quickly, glancing at Edi before she could think we’d been caught doing anything else.
Edi still stared at me, not saying or giving anything away about what might be going on in her head.
“She said she got a weird vibe.”
I started to say something in protest, though my heart knew what that vibe was, but Bea continued.
“She’s just been really paranoid, Henri. I’m sorry for jumping to conclusions along with her. I should’ve known better than to make such ugly accusations, but she was so upset.” Bea’s face scrunched for a second, but she continued. “She was hysterical and kept saying she felt it in her heart that something was going on between you—my friend—and, Aaron so I didn’t know what to think. I just told her I’d get to the bottom of it.” She glanced back at Edi, sniffling, then at me. “I shouldn’t have barged in here like this. But it’s just that”—she turned back to me—“I feel so torn. On the one hand, he’s my brother, but on the other, I love her like my own sister. I hate to see her so hurt. I apologize, Henri. I really do.”
I hadn’t done a thing wrong. And yet hearing her apologize like that only made the guilt I was feeling so much more profound. I didn’t even want to look at Edi now for fear that she’d see the shame in my face. I was guilty of nothing. So why couldn’t I bring myself to even glance at Edi?
“It’s okay,” I said, reaching out for Bea. “I know how close you are to Mia, and you were just reacting. I’m not angry. I promise.”
Bea touched my hand then hugged me. The emotion radiating off her made me think of the pain I felt when my sister left. The fear I’d had for all those years of Edi replacing me—leaving me. Bea had said it before more than once and so had Aaron: Mia was the sister Bea never had. She had been since she was a little girl, and now she was on the verge of losing her.
“It’s gonna be okay,” I whispered.
She pulled away slowly, and when our eyes met, to my surprise, there were no tears as I expected, and she took a deep breath, exhaling just as dramatically. “As much as it pains me to accept that maybe Mia won’t be in our family forever as I thought she would for so many years, a small part of me wishes he’d just pull the Band-Aid off once and for all. It feels like it’s been dangling for too long. I just . . .” She shook her head. “I just want him to do the honorable thing and not disrespect her in the process. She deserves better than that after all they’ve been through. So when she told me tonight . . .”
Those guilt ridden eyes would be the end all for me, but I continued to listen intently, refusing to so much as glance in Edi’s direction.
“I’m so sorry, Henri. She just knows him better than anyone, and this wasn’t the first time she’d brought up your name. I hadn’t wanted to mention it, but she’s told me before she suspects he’s infatuated with you. Then after seeing you two together the other day and after tonight, she says she’s never been so sure of anything in her life. I know she’s just being paranoid now. But when she called me tonight so hysterical and so sure, I didn’t even stop to think she might be imagining things. I kept thinking the same thing I’ve been thinking since she first brought it up: if there’s any truth to her suspicions, I’m the one who suggested to Aaron he offer you the job. I’d feel so responsible, so tonight I just snapped.”
“It’s okay,” I assured her, squeezing her hand before she could say more. “I get it,” I added as my heart began to drown in complete turmoil.
Aaron infatuated with me? Mia had never been so sure of anything in her life? Bea was blaming herself?
“They’ve been going through a lot,” I went on, willing my voice not to shake. “I don’t blame you for reacting. But we’re good. In fact, call me if you need to talk or just vent. I know how hard this has been for you. So call me whenever.”
Bea nodded with a weak smile, first at me then in Edi’s direction, and whispered something about needing to get home. She’d since walked in further into the apartment, so she started back now, and I accompanied her to the door. She apologized a few more time as she walked out before she was gone.
The moment I closed the door I turned to Edi, hoping she hadn’t picked up on my avoiding eye contact with her almost the entire time I’d spoken to Bea.
Edi was leaning against the kitchen counter, staring at me, but she didn’t look hurt anymore. I couldn’t quite make out what she might be thinking, and I had no idea where to even start.
“Do you think he’s infatuated with you?” Edi asked in a genuinely curious tone.
I refrained from shaking my head adamantly as I really wanted to, but my mind had started racing even before Bea had left. Edi knew me too well. The last thing I wanted was to come across overly defensive and put out even the aura of remorse. So instead, I shook my head gently and shrugged.
“I seriously doubt it.”
“Do any of them know about—?”
My response was too abrupt, way too hasty, and I could see the confusion in her questioning eyes. “You told him about us?”
“Yes,” I said as casually as I could manage as I started back to the sofa where I’d been sitting when Bea first knocked on the door. “The day he gave you a ride to the hospital he asked about you and, you know, how long you and I’ve been friends. So I told him we’d been friends since high school but have been a couple for a few months now.”
She peered at me, and I still couldn’t quite make out if she was suspicious or if she was just surprised. The conversation Aaron and I had the night I told him about Edi and me wasn’t quite as cut-and-dry as I was making it out to be, but I hadn’t lied. He did know, and I had been completely honest about it.
Finally, Edi pushed away from the counter and started toward me. She slowed before reaching the sofa then sat down next to me, placing her hand on my leg.
“So he and his fiancée are having issues?” She slipped her hand into mine, but before I could respond, she had a further inquiry. “Does he talk to you about their relationship?”
“He has,” I admitted, glancing down as she cupped my hand with both of hers now, so I squeezed back. “I mean tonight was probably the worst one of all, but it wasn’t the first time he had to leave without warning because of her and cut my work hours short.” I gulped, determined to look her straight in the eye because what I was saying was partially true. “Tonight she barged in there upset and then stalked out. There was no way he could deny they’d just had a fight, so he had no choice but to explain to me why he had to suddenly take me home.”
She took a deep breath, glancing away and staring at the floor for a moment. I braced myself, praying she wouldn’t ask the right questions. I felt deceitful enough. I didn’t want to lie any more than I already had. If she did ask the right questions, I’d have no choice but to be completely honest.
After tonight’s conversation with Aaron, I felt fairly certain there was more to the way he feasted his eyes on me. More to why he was sharing such intimate details of how he felt about his fiancée. I could insist it was nothing more than, like me, he just needed to vent, but Bea had filled me in enough about their huge family and his best friend who he’d be best man to in a few weeks. Unlike me, he had plenty of other people to vent to.
“His fiancée is convinced he’s infatuated with you,” Edi said, still staring at the floor. “And now you two will be together all weekend.” Her eyes lifted slowly, stopping when they met mine. “I trust you, Henri. Just tell me if there’s anything else about your relationship with him that I should know about. I’m feeling a little stupid right now. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind that your older, engaged boss—”
“You have nothing to feel stupid about,” I said, squeezing her hand.
I knew there were so many other things I could’ve said. So many other more comforting statements I could’ve offered.
I feel nothing for him.
I’d never hurt you again.
I promise to be true, and I’ll never share about our private life with anyone.
But just as Mia knew Aaron, Edi knew me too well. I was terrified she’d pick up on the insincerity. Despite the drama of tonight, shamefully, my excitement about spending the weekend with Aaron had just spiked several hundred notches. Edi sat up suddenly and wrapped her arms around my neck, startling me momentarily. “That’s all I need to hear,” she whispered against my ear.
I squeezed her back, too, but didn’t say more. I couldn’t. The voice of reason in my head was beginning to buzz. I should seriously consider cancelling this trip. I should do the right thing and tell Aaron it just didn’t feel right, given how Mia was feeling and how I knew Edi was feeling, despite her trying to be understanding. Just as Mia knew Aaron and Edi knew me, I knew Edi. She wasn’t entirely comfortable with this revelation and likely wouldn’t be from here on. But it would raise too many questions for everyone if I cancelled. It would ignite suspicion where there shouldn’t be any.
Mostly . . . I didn’t want to.
(okay maybe I’ll add just a tiny piece of the next scene! )
“Jesus, Henri, I don’t even know where to start.”
It was the first thing Aaron said to me the moment we were both in his car the next morning. I turned to him, not sure myself how to respond. I’d hardly slept just thinking about everything Bea had said and what his reaction might be when he found out that I now knew Mia was convinced he was infatuated with me.
Would he deny it, or worse, admit it? If so, how would I—should I—respond?
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