Frayed Page 73

’’No,’’ I croak.

’’I\m not making excuses for him, but he was the same age . . .’’ She pauses and I answer for her.

’’As our child would be now.’’

She nods and takes a deep breath. ’’And I think Ben sometimes separates himself from that child who lost his father. . . .’’

As she talks it hits me . . . why he likes Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn two lost boys. I imagine he likes Peter Pan too. I quickly bring my attention back to Dahlia and shove those thoughts aside.

’’He has a softness for kids. He always has. He took Trent under his wing and helped Serena raise him. He was a big brother to underprivileged kids for years, and even when he was in New York City he told me he volunteered as a drug counselor to teens. I\m not saying his reaction was right. I\m just saying I think I understand it.’’

I nod, absorbing everything she says. I feel a little raw. Looking at the time on my phone, I jump up. ’’Oh my God, I have to get ready. I have a retirement dinner downtown and I have to make sure the flowers arrived and the tables are set up.’’

She stands up and hugs me. I hold her tightly for a long time before I walk her to the door.

’’Call me,’’ she says.

’’I will. I promise. And, Dahlia, please don\ tell River about this.’’

She stares at me. ’’I can\ do that.’’

’’Please,’’ I beg.

She sighs. ’’I won\ bring it up, but if he asks me, I have to tell him.’’

I understand that and hug her close again. ’’He won\ ask. Why would he?’’

She pulls back and narrows her eyes at me. ’’But you do have to tell him and Xander too. I can\ keep this from him forever.’’

’’I will,’’ I promise.

She leaves and I slump back against the door. The thought of it is too much to bear right now. Dahlia wasn\ there when it all went down how River and Xander wanted to confront Ben and I begged them not to. The truth was, I wasn\ sure if Ben finding out about the baby would change my decision or possibly change my future and I didn\ want it to change at that point. I was too broken to be fixed or that was how I felt. I wonder now, if I had let them confront him, would my life be different today?

CHAPTER 23

Stuck in the Middle

Ben

I\m focused intently on my computer screen as I search the TRASH folder for Beck\s monthly layout that I accidentally deleted. Almost a week has passed since I found out I have a kid out in the world. My sister\s words are still swirling around in my brain. ’’Maybe you should think a little more about her and a little less about yourself.’’ The trouble is, she is all I have been able to think about. A memory sweeps through me.

•••

It was October thirty-first my senior year and S\elle e-mailed me and asked me to meet her that night. It had been almost two months since she had left me sleeping after our night together. I replied no. She asked again and that time I couldn\ say no so I said I\d meet her later that night. I knew I was lying to myself thinking I could just see her I knew I couldn\ . I wanted her to know how I felt. I told her that her green eyes were the most otherworldly eyes I had ever seen. That thoughts of her touch excited me. And that her red, almost copper hair haunted me. We agreed to meet at her apartment. She gave me the address.

But I never went that night, I couldn\ . Dahlia came back early I wasn\ expecting her. Instead I went the next day to her apartment and she wasn\ home. I went back the next five days and she never answered. The next time I showed up, someone answered and said she didn\ live there anymore.

•••

A soft knock on the door pulls me back to the present. ’’Come in.’’

Aerie enters. ’’Hi. Do you have a minute? I need to talk to you.’’

’’Hey. Sure. Everything okay?’’

She takes a deep breath. ’’I know you have a lot going on right now, but I have something to tell you and I\m not sure how you\ e going to react.’’

I glance over to her and motion for her to take a seat. ’’That doesn\ sound good.’’

Her eyes meet mine. ’’Jagger got some disturbing news earlier this week. His father has colon cancer. He\s there now with him.’’

’’I\m sorry to hear that.’’

’’It\s stage four and it\s unlikely he\ll live much longer.’’

I push back in my chair. ’’I\m really sorry. Let him know I\m here if he needs someone to talk to and let me know if there is anything I can do.’’

She leans forward. ’’I\ve decided to go to New York City to be with him. Jagger\s mother, Celeste, is already there, but I feel I should go too.’’

’’How does that impact Jagger\s movie role?’’

’’He\s dropped out. The announcement will be made later today.’’

’’And you? What are your plans?’’

’’The December issue is ready for press. And I can work on January\s from New York. My assistant is back from maternity leave and between her and my intern, who I\d like to hire full-time, I know I can do it.’’

I rub my hands together. ’’We could bring in someone temporarily to lessen your workload.’’

’’No! Ben, please. This is my magazine. Let me try,’’ she pleads, and a few tears prick her eyes.

I stand up and round the desk. ’’Hey. Of course. I just wanted to lessen your stress. I know how important Sound Music is to you. I\ll do whatever you think is best.’’


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