Wait! COME BACK!
My body screamed for him. I felt myself shaking in the cold with the absence of his heat, but I lacked the courage to run after him.
I’ve been thinking about you these last few weeks. I still can’t believe it’s been eight months since—
The lid of my laptop snapped shut before I read the rest of the email. I hunched over my desk and bit my nails into my palms.
Ben reached out to me. I couldn’t believe it. At first, I felt a wild happiness, but a tidal wave of nerves quickly drowned it. I’m just starting to move on. I flicked away a crumb from my desk. Then came the rage. He decides to email me now? After he’s dated how many women?
I didn’t want to read the rest of it. Not yet.
Laughter sounded from the living room. A pair of voices talked loudly as they walked into our apartment. They must be back from dinner.
Resigning myself to an evening of watching Luke and Jessica fawn over each other, I got up from my chair and joined them.
Jessica’s blonde ponytail whipped around. Luke stood in the kitchen, uncorking some wine. I always wondered what he thought when he visited our apartment. I wondered if he couldn’t wait to get away. To return to his mansion. Maybe he found our peasant life charming.
“How was your date?” Jessica grinned at me.
Let me see. After I calmed down, I realized how embarrassing it had been. It was a complete disaster. A date with a stranger turned into an interview with Will, and somehow I had a complete meltdown. I burst into laughter as I thought of Charlie pounding the ATM machine when it spat back the counterfeit bills.
“Um, well—the date was interrupted by Will.”
Luke’s face darkened. “What?”
“He showed up and paid Charlie to leave the table.” Another burst of laughter left my throat at both of their expressions. I summoned the energy to walk to the kitchen table and clutched one of the chairs, weakened by laughter. Even the fact that I left the date in tears seemed kind of hilarious.
Jessica made a wordless “wow,” but Luke looked like his temple was about to explode.
“I don’t know how he found me,” I shrugged, looking at Luke pointedly.
For a moment I thought he was going to smash the wine bottle. “I’m sorry, Natalie,” he apologized, red-faced. “He kept hassling me for your number at work and I told him you were going on a date with someone else.”
The fact that he had the nerve to harass Luke at work made me smile. “Don’t apologize,” I said, sobering immediately. “It wasn’t so bad.”
I didn’t tell them about the job offer or the interview. I wanted to take that secret to my grave, but I couldn’t forget how he made me feel, how he seemed to understand what I was going through.
“He seems like a really nice person. Sort of.”
But Luke was shaking his head, looking furious with himself. “Natalie, there are a lot of things you don’t know about him. He’s not a nice guy. He’s a huge mess. A couple years ago, he—” He colored and suddenly fell silent.
“He what?” I prompted.
“I really shouldn’t say. It’s not for me to tell you. But, just believe me—he has a host of issues that you really don’t want to deal with.”
My lungs froze. What did it matter, really? I’ll probably never see him again. I scared him off. The thought that Will was somehow harboring a terrible secret made me feel intrigued instead of cautious.
I sat down at the kitchen table, Luke avoiding my eyes.
“So?” Jessica said aggressively. “I had—still have—a ton of issues myself. Why shouldn’t she give him a chance?”
Our eyes met and I felt a rush of affection for my friend. That’s true.
His eyes darted to the women united against him. A nervous chuckle left his mouth, knowing he was overruled. “Don’t—it’s not the same at all.”
But his girlfriend wasn’t going to let him off that easily. “How is it not the same?”
A pin could have dropped in the kitchen and I would have heard it clearly. Luke’s mouth faltered.
“I can’t. It’s not my place. I’m sure he’ll tell you eventually.”
Well, now I just have to know.
“And when he does, Natalie can decide for herself if she wants to date him.”
Feeling bad for Luke, I leaned over and patted his shoulder. “I’m sure Luke just thinks he’s trying to help. Anyway, don’t worry about it. It didn’t really end well so I doubt I’ll see him again.”
He blew out his cheeks, looking relieved. “Don’t Google his name, Natalie. I’m serious. Even if it’s unlikely you’ll see him again.”
Jessica swatted his arm. “Well now how is she supposed to stop herself from doing that? Stop putting ideas in her head.”
She squealed as he suddenly pulled her onto his lap and kissed her cheek. A flutter of awkwardness swept my insides. I always felt like I was walking in on something private around them. I wonder if she felt like that around Ben and me. Probably.
I was reminded of something William mentioned. “Luke, how is it with that side of the family? He mentioned that he was in the race to be CEO.”
With Jessica in his arms, he gave a derisive laugh. “I will be really, really surprised if he gets it. He’s a bit of a loose cannon.”
Considering how disrespectful Will was when he talked about Luke, I couldn’t exactly muster the energy to be angry on Will’s behalf. I could detect a faint note of bitterness coming from Luke’s voice. Was he upset that his father’s death ruled him out of the hierarchy of the company?
“I could see things getting really ugly between all of them when Uncle Dominic resigns. Did you know that he tried to sell my share of the company without my knowledge?”
“What?” I hissed as I looked at Jessica’s grim face. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah. He controls all the trusts and he wanted to sell all of the shares. I’m in the middle of a lawsuit with him, actually,” his voice trembled.
What a horrible family.
“I’m really sorry.”
“Ah, don’t be. Once this is over, I’m cutting off ties with all of them.”
I spent the rest of the evening boiling over everything Luke said—or hadn’t said. The unread email burned in my mind and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from reading it when I went to bed. My mind burned all night. What was the horrible thing William had done? I wished Luke hadn’t mentioned it.