I guzzled it down and glanced around me at the offenders who sat at other tables. I couldn’t help but draw parallels. This was far from the school cafeteria, but I wasn’t going to fit in any better here than I had as an angsty adolescent. I convinced myself that I had nothing in common with these people. I had every intention of keeping to myself. Who knew how long I’d have to call this place home?
Max sat down across from me, wearing the same uniform as I was. He set his tray down, as if meaning to stay.
I sat back and glared. A fine pale line branched across his cheek and instantly I knew it was from the beating I’d given him. The last time I’d seen his face, no one would have recognized him. I balled my fists, reliving the memory and seriously contemplating putting it into action all over again.
“What the fuck do you want?”
He wrinkled his brow. “I don’t want a damn thing from you. We’re both in here. I figured you might want to see a friendly face.”
“Just because we both happen to be here doesn’t mean we’re anywhere close to friendly.”
“Yeah, well, it doesn’t hurt to have allies.” He glanced around the room before looking back to his food.
“If you want allies, keep looking. I’m fine on my own.”
“Whatever,” he muttered.
We were silent for a while. Unable to ignore the roar in my stomach, I took a bite of my cardboard lasagna and chewed over the hatred I felt for Max. People at the other tables spoke among themselves, ignoring us. True enough, Max didn’t seem like he belonged here any more than I did. He didn’t look like the pretty boy he once was though. His blond hair was overgrown slightly. The pallor of his skin was not its usual unnatural glow.
“You’re looking pretty rough. No spa in here, huh?”
He squinted. “You’re one to talk.”
“Yeah, well, I never cared too much about appearances.” I scrubbed my hand over the stubble on my jaw. I hadn’t shaved yet. Didn’t figure that mattered much now.
A hollow laugh escaped me, at the irony of us here, at how I could feel the fight slipping from me with each passing day. I pushed the tray away, unable to stomach another bite.
There we sat. A billionaire and an heir to one, clad in shapeless blue uniforms that relegated us to the lowest rung of society. Money helped, but we couldn’t buy our freedom.
I’d known this. I learned the very real lesson years ago, and as a result, I’d always been exceedingly careful. I found the information I needed, but I was cautious with whom and how I meddled when I skirted the law. The irony was that I sat here now, in front of a man I detested who deserved nothing more than four cement walls around him for the rest of time.
That empty defeated feeling crept over me all over again.
“If Michael could only see us now.”
Max’s lips grew thin, all signs of his desired camaraderie gone. “He cares a lot less than you think he does, you know.”
“You’re saying that because he cut you off. Giving you what you deserve doesn’t mean he doesn’t give a shit about anyone else.”
“You don’t know him,” he bit out.
“I’ve known him half my life. I know him pretty damn well.”
“You had a glimpse. You’ve only seen the good.”
Michael was more than good. In fact, good wasn’t a word I’d use to describe him. Focused, shrewd, discriminating in his actions and choices. He couldn’t choose his children, clearly, and Max would never be able to forgive him for choosing me over him when it came to business.
“You’re his child, and you act like one. I’m sure he’d show a different side of himself to you. One I probably wouldn’t like either.”
He let out a weak laugh. “You look at me and all you see is a fuckup because that’s what he wanted you to see. I would have done anything for him, for a chance to learn from him and be a part of something more. He purposefully kept me away from opportunities that would have helped me excel, and then he handed those same opportunities to you. He threw it in my face.”
“Maybe he did, but that doesn’t excuse the mistakes you’ve made.”
“The only mistake I made was turning my hatred onto you. It should have been him. It should have been him all along.”
“You turn your hatred onto anyone who gets in your way, lest you forget.”
He dropped his fork and pushed his tray away. “Listen . . . I’m sorry about Erica.”
The words hung in the air between us. Ridiculous, small words. “You’re sorry?”