Dazed Page 15

Alarm fills his face. ’’First of all, who the f**k is Kay?’’

’’Kay Hudson. Jules\ sister,’’ I hiss.

His jaw drops, but again silence surrounds us for the longest time. ’’Kimberly is in California?’’

I guess he calls Kay, Kimberly. ’’Yes, she\s my other half at the magazine.’’

He scrubs his head with his fingers and his hair sticks up everywhere. ’’Kimberly doesn\ have a f**king clue why we broke up. And, yes, I saw Jules that morning I dropped you off. It was pouring rain and she didn\ have an umbrella so I walked her to the door. She told me she moved to LA, and I don\ even think I said hello. I was shocked she was here. I haven\ seen her since that day, until this afternoon.’’

His voice is low and my heart is so full of pain that I don\ say a word in response. I just let him talk. ’’The day I saw her I drove around LA trying to decide if I should stay. Trying to determine if I could stay with her in the same town. Then I saw you walking out of the office and I had no doubt I wasn\ going to leave California because of her. I didn\ have to. I felt nothing for her. But I knew I was going to stay because of you.’’

’’Jagger, I can\ do this. I don\ want to be the rebound girl,’’ I say in a low, squeaky voice.

’’You are not a rebound. I love you,’’ he says stressing every word.

’’But, Jagger, by definition, I am. Don\ you see? Jump out of one serious relationship into another that\s the definition.’’

’’Jules and I had a different kind of relationship. It\s not in the least bit comparable to what you and I have.’’

’’Jagger, come on. We haven\ known each other long enough for you to know that.’’

He scrubs his eyes. ’’You\ e wrong. It\s not about the length of time, it\s about the way we feel when we\ e together.’’

’’That makes no sense. You wanted to marry her. You obviously felt something profound for her.’’

’’Aerie, yes, I loved her, but all I\m trying to say is it was different. I did buy a ring, but I never asked her to marry me. I just couldn\ do it. Something about it didn\ feel right.’’ He takes a deep breath. ’’All she ever cared about was herself. It just took me a while to see it. She was going on more and more auditions. She\d become preoccupied with getting the next big role, but I never knew at what cost. She was up for a lead that she really wanted. She flew out here for a few days and when she came back she was a wreck. She didn\ get the part. I had to work late but got to her as soon as I could. When I did, she was a drunken mess. And, f*k, you want to know what she was upset about?’’

I shake my head. His gray eyes are stormy and the pain on his face is excruciating. ’’That she\d let the director f**k her and didn\ get the part.

’’I was done the minute she told me, but she wouldn\ let it end that easy. She pleaded forgiveness for what she called a momentary indiscretion. When I looked into her eyes that night all I saw was how selfish she really was. She had betrayed me and there was no taking that back.’’

My heart aches for him but despite that I now know for sure what I am I\m the rebound girl, and I have to get out. ’’Jagger, we\ e over. I can\ do this.’’

He rises to his feet. His jaw, his entire body, even his stance tightens. ’’Are you sure that\s what you want, Aerie?’’

I nod, unable to talk.

’’I haven\ been seeing her. F*k, I told you I didn\ know she would even be there.’’

I stand up and put my hands on his chest. I can feel his heart beating. Willing the tears to stay tucked away, I take a deep breath and know I have to let him go. ’’I\ll never be sure about us anymore, I don\ even think you can be sure, and I can\ live with that.’’

His body tenses even more beneath my fingertips. His eyes start to swirl stormy gray again as he stares at me maybe waiting for me to take it back, but I can\ . It\s true. It\s how I feel.

There\s a deep sadness flowing in waves between the two of us. Then, he turns and walks up the steps without another word leaving me feeling numb and alone. I finally let the tears I\ve been holding back fall like rain. And as the flickering of his orange shoelaces slapping against the floor begins to fade away, I\m left standing there staring at his disappearing image through the glass.

Chapter 10

Echo

’’You know what they say about staring through the glass.’’ I keep hearing his voice, deep and se*y. I fluff my pillow and drop my head to it for the hundredth time. Inhaling deeply, I try to catch a whiff of him on my sheets. Even as exhaustion overtook me, sleep wouldn\ come, and daylight arrived way too soon.

As the sun rises, I lie beneath my silk coverlet and close my eyes. Not wanting to start another day, I make myself sit up . . . I have to make myself do this. I have to continue my life as it was before I met him. But everywhere I look, he\s there. I hear his voice, smell the lavender scent of his skin, taste the lime he always added to his drinks. I can see him coming out of the shower his dark hair wet, his body damp, his arms strong enough to lift me onto the counter in one swoop.

The picture of my grandmother sits in a crystal frame beside my bed with one of my uncle next to it. I pick it up. He has deep tan lines and burnished blonde hair. He wears a look of optimism that doesn\ appear in all my memories of him. I considered how he fought depression his whole life, and wondered if it had to do with Madeline. I hadn\ seen his manic side, but I\d heard my parents talk about it and then I read about it in the movie script. He worked in fits and bursts writing and recording non-stop for days without sleep. His band members were attuned to his personality and accommodated his needs.

Setting the photo down, I glance at the two twin frames two people plagued by depression, but who led completely different lives. My grandmother lived in the shadows of her depression, letting it control her. My uncle fought it, only giving in when he could no longer fend it off. But they both died young. Would I end up like them? All alone?

***

I\d told Jagger about Levi, but not the whole story. The only person who knows everything is Dahlia and maybe that\s why she\s always so accepting of my quirks. It\s not a time in my life I ever want to relive. The summer after I returned from Laguna, the summer after I lost my virginity to Levi, I spent a lot of time dwelling on the events of that summer. I had withdrawn even further into my own shell and my parents were concerned. My mood swings got worse, my anger spilled over into our conversations, and all I wanted was to be left alone. I pretended to be sick as often as I could. My grades were dropping because I just couldn\ focus. I had lost control of my life. This went on for about six months until my parents became so worried they took me to a therapist. With medication and many hours of therapy, I found myself. After six months of sitting in my psychiatrist\s office twice a week, I rebuilt a life I could control. Routines that I didn\ deviate from ever.

I knew I needed structure and stability. That was who I was until Jagger. I let him in, I let him alter my behavior change how I approached life, and I found I liked who I had become. I liked living in the moment, having fun, departing from the predictable and mundane. But I shouldn\ have let it happen. I knew what worked for me. So as I set my feet on the rug beneath me, I am determined that today Alice is gone and Aerie is back not because she wants to be, but because she has to be.

***

The traffic is ridiculous this morning. When I\m finally a few blocks away from the office, I glance at my watch and wonder if it\s too early to call Dahlia. I reach across to the passenger seat and pull my BlackBerry from its case. The screen doesn\ light up. I never even used it yesterday and it must have died. It\s so unlike me to let that happen. Dahlia is the one either with a dead phone or without one. Plugging my phone into the power cord connected through my console, it flashes and finally lights up. Two missed calls and a text from Jagger.

I listen to the first call and the sound of his voice affects me immediately. ’’Hey, Alice, guess what? Brett just called and he\s doing a round table casting at two. I guess one of the potential leads dropped out and he wants me to come in. Wish me luck. Oh, and it looks like I\ll be wearing a turtleneck because I\m not sure how well that hickey you gave me will go over.’’

I touch my neck where he sucked on it. Then I scroll down to the second call as the tears I promised myself I wouldn\ cry prickle my eyes.

’’Hey, baby, the audition was amazing. But listen I\m on my way over. There\s something I wasn\ expecting and I want to tell you about it person. Don\ worry that pretty little head of yours it\s not really that big of a deal, although I think you\ll . . . you know what, never mind. I\ll just tell you about it when I get there. And, Aerie, I love you.’’

Oh God, my cries turn into sobs he really didn\ know. The traffic starts to move and I wipe the tears from my eyes. Taking a deep breath, I call Dahlia.

’’Hello?’’ she says not sounding well at all.

’’Dahlia girl, it\s me. Are you still sick?’’

’’Hey, Aerie, I don\ feel that great. I threw up again this morning.’’

’’Have you taken anything?’’

’’River just went to the store to get something to settle my stomach. Is everything okay?’’ Her voice is soft and as I listen to her, it hits me.

’’Dahlia, are you pregnant?’’

’’No! God, no! I\m on birth control,’’ she laughs.

’’That doesn\ mean you can\ get pregnant,’’ I say matter-of-factly.

’’Don\ be ridiculous, I think I just ate too much junk food at the game the other night or, who knows, maybe I have food poisoning.’’

’’Well if I were you I\d call that husband of yours and ask him to pick up an EPT test instead of Pepto-Bismol.’’

’’Right,’’ she laughs. ’’Did you call for a reason or just to harass me about overeating?’’

As I pull into the parking lot of the business center, I push my reasons for calling aside. ’’Just wanted to say hi, but I\ll call you later today. I just got to work and I\m late.’’

’’That\s not like you. What\s going on?’’

’’I\ll call you later, okay?’’

’’Okay, but please do.’’

’’Oh, and Dahlia, call River.’’

She hangs up without a goodbye and I just stare at the blank screen. Then I notice the text.

At 1:53 a.m. from Jagger:

I\m going to give you some time, but we\ e by no means over.

Sitting alone in my car, I contemplate texting him back to tell him how much I miss him. But I promised myself I would get out of this relationship before I was in too deep and I know I need to stick to my promise.

The elevator door dings on the tenth floor and as I exit I realize how exhausted I am. Feeling preoccupied, I don\ even notice Shelly approaching me.

’’Good morning, Ms. Daniels,’’ she says, stopping to look at me.

’’Good morning, Shelly. Any messages?’’

’’Yes, a few.’’ She hands me the newspaper and a handful of pink colored rectangular pieces of paper.

’’Thank you. Anything urgent?’’

’’Umm . . . I\m not sure. Are you okay?’’

’’Yes, why do you ask?’’ I manage a small smile.

’’You\ e wearing jeans. You never wear jeans to work.’’

I shrug. ’’I didn\ feel like dressing up today.’’

’’Well, you look incredible as always. And I love your scarf,’’ she remarks.

I nod a thank you. With my head pounding, the lack of sleep quickly catching up with me, I hustle down the hallway so I can sit down. Through the open door, I see Kay packing up some boxes. She\s wearing a loose fitting canary yellow dress with matching shoes. Her hair is down and the color of her outfit makes it look even redder.

’’Moving day?’’ I ask.

’’Not quite, but soon. Damon tells me everything should be ready by the end of the day. Not that I haven\ enjoyed rooming with you,’’ she jokes, ’’but I\m ready to get my own place.’’

I laugh. ’’I understand.’’

’’Oh, by the way, Jules got a call early this morning. Final screen tests are today. She\s on her way now. I\m just so excited for her. I really think she\s going to get the part. And she thinks her old boyfriend, you know the guy she was auditioning with yesterday, is a shoo-in for the lead as well. Maybe my little sis will find true love with him again.’’

Setting my things on my desk, I blink at her without saying a word.

’’Are you alright?’’ she asks.

’’Yes, I just have a headache.’’

’’Oh, I\m so sorry. Do you want some Tylenol?’’

’’No, thanks. I\m good.’’

’’Well, I\m sneaking back over to the WB this morning. Want to come?’’

’’No, thank you. I have a lot of work to do.’’

’’Okay, I\ll be back shortly. I really think I should have held out for a job in Hollywood. I just love movie sets and movie stars,’’ she says with a wave of her hand.

I furrow my brows wondering for the first time why she took this job and if she\s planning on sticking around.

***

I spend the morning keeping busy with small easy tasks that, once complete, give me a sense of accomplishment. My hand keeps flitting to my neck to the scarf he bought for me and the spot it covers that he marked as his own. I just can\ stop thinking about him. When I grab the newspaper, my messages fall out. I quickly look through them, stopping on the one from Madeline Grayson. It says, ’’She\d like to talk to you if you could give her a call.’’


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