“You were young. And this kid isn’t Brian. He’s just as fucked up, but he’s never been a friend. You don’t owe him anything.”
“I know that.”
“Do you? Because sometimes it really doesn’t seem that way.”
I’d never met Trevor face-to-face, but somehow he was always Brian in my mind. I’d never admit it, but I couldn’t separate the two. He was a shadow, a ghost no one could catch. But to me, he was a ghost who carried around the blackest memory I had. Brian had been as misguided as me, but he’d taken things too far. I’d devised the whole plan with him, but he was the one who had followed through, far beyond the original intent. Because he’d taken the fall, I was free.
The threat of prison had been lifted, but the guilt that he’d taken his own life haunted me. For months. When I started working for Michael, I thought I’d moved past it. But maybe I hadn’t.
“I can’t change what happened.”
“None of us can. But you can stop letting this . . . menace . . . vandalize your life. If you don’t stop him, the feds are going to put you away, Blake. You don’t need me to tell you, but you’re not a minor anymore. This is a fucking felony. You’ve got a wife, a family who cares about you, hundreds of people who rely on you. And you’re going to mail it in because you can’t stomach turning the tables and making sure Trevor lands his ass in jail for all of this?”
“He’s not doing anything that I don’t do.”
“Maybe that’s true, but you do a lot more than he does. You’ve built dozens of companies that are putting good things into the world. You’ve helped Mom and Dad. You’ve helped me, when I’ve given you no good reason to. You’re Erica’s rock, and right now you’re failing her by being too blind to see the difference. Why won’t you face him?”
“If he ever showed his goddamn face, I would,” I snapped.
“You know what I mean.”
“I’m not going to be bullied by a shadow.”
“Well, that’s what is happening.”
I stood and paced around the room, Heath’s words rattling through my brain.
“Facing off . . . I guess it makes Brian real again. Trevor wants to draw me back into this nightmare. That’s what this is all about. He wants to turn me into the person the FBI already thinks I am.”
“You’re not that person. You’re so far from the kid you were, Blake. You’re an adult. You’ve had a million experiences. You’re married. You have people who need you and give you purpose.”
“Exactly. I don’t want my purpose to be giving him ammunition.”
“All you have to do is draw breath and you’re giving him all the ammunition he needs to keep coming back at you. Protect the life you’ve built. That should be your purpose. And if that means taking this little fucker out of the picture, that’s what you need to do.”
I leaned against the couch and let out a tired breath. “When did you get so fucking focused?”
“I have only you to blame for that. Alli had to fall in love with a completely different guy after I cleaned up.”
I nodded. “You’re lucky.”
“So are you. You just need to realize that you’ve got this all wrong, and that’s why Erica’s not here. Work it out in your head, and she’ll come back. I have no doubt about that.”
I shot him an imploring look. “Sounds like you have inside information that I don’t.”
He shook his head. “Nah, just a gut feeling. If Alli left me without a word, I can guarantee I’d be looking long and hard at what the fuck I did wrong. And no amount of pride would keep me from trying to make it right so I could get her back.”
“You’re starting to sound like the older brother.”
He smirked. “You’ve saved my ass enough. I owe you a few.”
* * *
When I woke up the next morning, the reality that I was pregnant didn’t seem any less surreal. A part of me wanted to run back home to Blake and bask in the news, but another part of me was glad for our distance now. Life had thrown me some hard lessons, and I needed a chance to temper this wave of excitement until I could make sense of it. So much was uncertain.
My first priority was getting Michael’s help. I rose early and took a cab to his office while Alli stayed at the hotel. The driver pulled up to an impressive high rise situated in the heart of the city, and I took the elevator to the top floor. I’d reached out to his assistant the day before, letting him know that Blake was going to be in town and wanted to meet with him. She’d put it in his calendar without hesitation. When I arrived, after a little explaining that I was Blake’s wife and I intended to meet with Michael regardless, his receptionist showed me into his office.