“William, don’t be rude. Open the door so we can come inside.”
His lip curled. “You brought her here without asking me?”
“I wasn’t aware that bringing your girlfriend would be a problem.”
“She’s not my girlfriend.”
A stab of pain punctured my heart as Will glared at his father.
“For today, she is.”
I was thrown by the poisonous look he shot me. “I’m just here to support you, Will. That’s it. I swear.”
Mr. Pardini lost his patience and he slammed his fist on the door. “Don’t be stubborn. Open the door!” he barked.
His father barged in as Will stepped aside and I followed quickly. He marched for the living room immediately and left Will and I alone. It was hard. I really missed him, but he denied all feelings towards me the last time I was here. It made me feel a bit pathetic for coming here.
“So, how much did he pay you?”
Stung, I looked into his eyes, which looked hard. “I didn’t take anything from your dad. You can ask him that yourself.” Jerk.
He sighed and the unyielding look vanished from his face. “Why are you here, Natalie? Didn’t I hurt you enough?”
“I’m here because I care. You’re in this mess because of me. I just want to make it right, so why won’t you let me?”
The emotion in my voice affected him. He gritted his teeth and looked down. “None of this is your fault. It’s all mine. Mine. I wanted to do this alone.”
“Why do you have to do it alone?”
“Because it’s my cross to bear.”
“I won’t say anything, Will. I’ll just be there with you. I promise.”
A little smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “I wish I met you years ago.” Then he turned around and walked to the living room.
What does he mean by that?
I jumped as someone pounded the door and I peered through the hole, recognizing the two reporters. “Let us in!”
Will reappeared in the foyer. “Who is it?”
“The reporters your dad hired,” I said in a quiet voice.
“What?” He whirled around to look at him. “Dad, what is she talking about?”
Mr. Pardini looked unconcerned with the menace in Will’s voice. “Yes, I hired them to clean up this mess.”
“No,” he roared. “I won’t have them following me around when I do this. This is my problem.”
“It’s my company! It’s my name!” Mr. Pardini shouted back. “Do you think you’re the only one affected by all of this? Your mother and I have tried everything to make you happy. I’m done! I’ve had enough of you. All you’ve done for me is make my life difficult. You embarrass me. I am through cleaning up after you.”
Mr. Pardini’s thin frame shook; flecks of spit flew from his mouth as he screamed at his son. William’s eyes widened and he took a step back.
But he still wasn’t done. “You’ll never make CEO of this company! I let you believe that you had a chance because I wanted you to focus on something in your life, but it didn’t work.”
“Wow, Dad.” His eyes narrowed and he placed his hands on his hips. “Thanks a lot for that. That makes me feel great.”
“Will—” I stopped as they both looked at me, surprised that I was still there. “It won’t be as bad as you think. You’ll get to meet them like you wanted, and the public will stop hounding you for retribution. If they see the families forgive you, they might leave you alone.”
“I don’t care about any of that. This was supposed to be private.”
“It stopped being private a couple weeks ago, son.”
William looked at me for help, but I just shrugged and grimaced. Just do it.
“Fine, but you’re staying here, Dad.” He looked at me and nudged his head towards the door.
Mr. Pardini gave me a small nod as Will waited for me at the entrance. My heels clicked loudly on the wooden floors and my heart hammered as I stood beside him and heard his fast breaths. He was scared to leave his quiet sanctuary. His hand twitched by his side and I lifted my hand to grab it. It was the first time we touched in days and my blood heated in response. I wanted to tell him how much I missed the feeling of his hands around my waist, his lips pressed against my face. I missed being around him, but all I did was try to squeeze some of those thoughts into his hand.
* * *
Ugly, industrial South San Francisco rolled by as the driver took us down the Peninsula. I balled my fists over my knees as I watched Will’s face growing more and more anxious. He probably prayed for the traffic to get worse so that we wouldn’t get there on time.
A stupid, selfish part of me wished that he would change his mind about us. I wanted him to lean forward and kiss me. I wanted him so badly that it was torture to be in the same car as him. I kept watching him, wanting to memorize every part of him so that I wouldn’t forget him when this was over.
He fingered a bottle of water in his hands. “You know, I pictured this moment many times in my head. What I would say, what they would look like…When I saw myself doing this, I didn’t see a bunch of fucking reporters documenting the whole thing.” He looked at me. “I hate this.”
“I know you didn’t, but your dad’s right. This is affecting him, too. We have to do something to make it better.”
He made an impatient noise and stared out the window. “I can’t believe he dangled that job in front of me to try and fix me.”
At least your parents care about you.
“Will, are you going to go back to work?”
“I don’t know.”
He said it in a closed way that made me realize that the conversation was over. Disappointed, I fell back into my seat. William’s quiet gloom spread throughout the car like a heavy fog, and I felt his anticipation when the car suddenly stopped in front of a modest home in a quiet suburb. This was the place that held one of the families that Will had a part in destroying.
“Oh, shit.” He blanched as the car made a sudden stop. Will craned his neck to look inside the windows, where a few dark forms shifted inside. “They’re here.”
His pupils were like pins. “I can’t do this. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking.”
“You’re just nervous. They’re probably nervous, too. Calm down!”