“Jesus, Gabe.” Tate is at my side, his arm around me. “I’m so sorry.”
I lift my head from my hands and stare at him. “You have nothing to be sorry for. I’m the one who’s sorry. I know this is going to come back on you, embarrass you.”
“You think I give a flying fuck about what people think?”
“I think you’re a kids’ doctor who comes from a pair of murdering drug dealers, and your brother used to let women fuck him for money.”
“Stop thinking about how this affects me, Gabe. You don’t need to worry about me. This is about you. You’re what matters right now. I want to help you. Let me help.”
“I don’t need help. I’ll be fine.” I get to my feet, leaving him sitting there.
“You need to stop this.” Tate gets to his feet.
“Acting like I’m still fucking twelve years old. I’m a grown man, and I don’t need you shielding me from shit, Gabe. You should have told me the truth.”
I laugh without humor. “What was I supposed to say? Hey, Tate, remember when Mom and Dad were arrested, and we were on our own, so we moved out here, but I was struggling to make ends meet? Well, I started screwing women for money, so I could pay the rent.”
He shakes his head. “I could’ve helped.”
“You were a fucking kid, who just had his whole world turned upside down.”
“So were you!” he yells, frustrated.
“I’m your older brother.” I slam my hand against my chest. “It was my responsibility to take care of you. I did what I had to do. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
He’s staring at me with a mixture of guilt and anger and frustration in his eyes. He looks so much like me right now that it’s terrifying.
I grab my smokes and light another one up. Staring up at the wall, I take a drag and blow out the smoke.
“Have you thought about how you’re going to handle this?” Vaughn says.
I turn my head and look over at him. “I’m not going to do jack shit.”
“They won’t let this go,” Vaughn says, like I don’t already know.
“They will if I refuse to talk about it.”
“I spoke to Gil. He called me when he couldn’t get ahold of you. They pulled together a press release. He just needs you to okay it. He emailed it over.”
“I’m not sending out any press release. I don’t have to justify myself to anyone.”
“No, you don’t. But you do have to address this with the media and your fans if you want to have a career left at the end of it,” Julian says.
“I couldn’t give a fuck about my career right now.” I walk over to the window and stare out of it.
“You say that now…”
I turn back to Julian. “Honestly, all I want to do right now is sleep. Everything else can wait.”
I toss my barely smoked cigarette into the ashtray. I walk away from the three of them, leaving them there, and go into my bedroom.
I shut the door. I fall facedown onto my bed and bury my face in the pillow.
But it smells like Speedy.
I roll onto my back and sit up, scrubbing my hands over my face.
As I draw them away, I see a pair of her bed shorts hanging over the back of the chair. Her lip balm on the dresser. One of her hair ties on my nightstand. I push up to my feet. I strip all the bedding from my bed. Then, I gather it up in my arms. I get the hair tie, lip balm, and shorts. I go over to my bedroom door, open it, and toss it all out into the hallway.
Then, I close my door, climb onto my bed, pull the duvet over my head, and shut my eyes.
My apartment is quiet, apart from the low sound of the television in the living room, when I finally drag my ass out of bed.
I go into the kitchen to get a bottle of water.
It’s clean. The mess I made is gone, like it never happened. The only signs it did are the missing stool under the breakfast bar and a dent from when I smashed it into the wall.
I walk over to the fridge and get a bottle of water out. Then, I go into the living room.
I see the back of Vaughn’s blond head as he sits on my sofa, watching basketball on my TV.
“You still here?”
He turns at the sound of my voice. “You look like shit.”
“So sweet of you to say.” I unscrew the cap off the water and drain the bottle halfway. “How long was I out for?”
“Is that all? Felt like longer.”
“How are you doing?” he asks.
I shrug and walk over to the sofa. I put the water down on the coffee table, pick my smokes up from there, and sit my ass down on the sofa.
“What happened to Tate and Julian?” I ask.
“Tate had to go to the hospital. He got called in. There was an emergency with one of his patients. He’ll be back as soon as he can. Julian’s gone on a coffee run.” He looks at me. “You were out of coffee. And you know how twitchy he gets without it.”
“Ava—” I cut off.
I drag a hand through my hair. “Nothing. She used to get the coffee; that’s all.”
He’s silent a moment. I light up a smoke and stare at the TV.
“You know, you didn’t have to stay,” I say low.
I can feel his eyes on me, but I don’t look at him.
“I know I didn’t have to stay. I wanted to.”
I take a drag of my cigarette and slowly blow the smoke out.
“When the shit hit the fan with Cain and Piper, who was the first person to call me? You. Hell, we weren’t even close back then. We just knew each other through work. But you were the first to call. You got my ass out of the house. Sure, you took me out and got me trashed, but you were there. The very fucking least I can do for you right now is be here when you need me.”
“Yeah, you look it. Oh, and I cleaned up the glass from earlier, so you know.”
The bottle I smashed earlier. Shit.
“Thanks,” I mutter.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“You mean, me being an ex-hooker?”
I stare at him, wanting to make him uncomfortable so that he won’t push the conversation, but the fucker steadily stares back at me.
I look away. “No. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“And what about Ava?”
“What about her?” I glare at him.
“Do you want to talk about her?”
His silence weighs heavy for a moment.
“Charly’s with her. They’re at the Four Seasons. Ava stayed there last night. Charly flew in with me this morning and went straight there to see her.”
The Four Seasons, huh? Nice. She must be using the blood money she earned from selling me out.
Hurt and anger squeeze my chest like a vise.
“Why are you telling me this?” I speak the words through gritted teeth.
“I thought you might want to know.”
“Well, I don’t,” I snap. “I don’t give a shit where she is.”
“Charly says that Ava is adamant that she didn’t talk to that journalist.”
I slide hard eyes to him. “You believe her?”
He lifts a shoulder. “Charly does, and I trust Charly.”
“Then, you’re both as big of a fool as I was.” I stub my cigarette out and toss the butt into the ashtray.
“Gabe”—he sits forward, arms on thighs, hands clasped together—“the stuff that Digby printed. The things from your past. It doesn’t matter shit to me. I don’t look at you any differently. You did what you needed to, to survive. Fuck, you were barely an adult yourself, taking care of your kid brother. No one will judge you for that.”
“Yes, they will.” I tip my chin in the direction of the window. “Them out there, they’ll judge me.”
“So what? Don’t let other people make you feel ashamed of who you were. You’re who you are now because of your past.”
“Yeah, and aren’t I just a fucking stellar example of a human being?”