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Authors: Liz Crowe

Tags: #General Fiction

Mutual Release (36 page)

BOOK: Mutual Release
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Yanking her wet hair up in a ponytail, she practiced her speech to him, the one where she told him they were just never going to have more than a working relationship. She could not expose herself to this kind of emotional purge every time she got close to him. And something told her that would be exactly what would happen – why, or how, or what he did to her to cause it, she had no idea. But she wouldn’t, couldn’t, allow it. Her throat closed up at the thought of his eyes, the few parts of his anatomy she’d been privy to so far, but mostly of his warm, rough voice and the way her antsy, nervous energy seemed to settle whenever he was around.

Unhappy, but resolved, she opened the bathroom door and padded through the giant bedroom and into the living area of the suite. She smiled, hoping to soften the blow of her words as she walked around to the large couch. It was empty, as was the smaller loveseat and the recliner in the office area.

“He must have gone out for food, or maybe a run,” she heard herself say, then winced when her head pounded with the effort. She needed painkillers, a gallon of water, and then to sleep some more, and she knew it. She wandered into the kitchen, grabbed a cold water bottle from the fridge, and sipped as she flipped through the newspaper lying on the counter.

Something made her look towards the door. Which was when she saw the piece of hotel stationary, a small container of ibuprofen, and a bottle of ginger ale. Frowning, she picked up the note then sat, hand to her mouth, and read then re-read Evan’s message.

Julie,

If you’re reading this it means you’re probably nursing a healthy headache, dry mouth, and need to get some more actual sleep as opposed to just passing out. My favorite hangover cure is three of these painkillers, ginger ale over ice, a few hours of sleep, then a giant cheeseburger. But don’t let me tell you how to handle yourself.

I think you need to spend a day alone. So I’m around, not far, but I won’t be back until sometime tomorrow. If you look out the window you will have a great view of the parade.

Julie snatched the room-darkening window shades aside and watched a huge balloon-rendered Sesame Street character pass by. She smiled at it then frowned, realizing she’d just been abandoned for the day.

There are plenty of clothes in the closet for whatever you feel like doing today. And I left some cash on the table by the door.

She picked up the stack of twenties, then tossed them down again. Bastard. Thought he could just drop money and run out on her? On Thanksgiving? Nausea rose again, but she sipped the water and forced it away. Presumptuous-ass much? A small and annoying voice in the back of her head was raising a protest, reminding her she had taken one of the few very personal things he’d ever told her and tossed it back into his face. And gotten stupid-ass drunk in the process.

If you need anything or there is an emergency, just call the front desk. They know where to find me. I cancelled our dinner reservation for tonight, but still have the play tickets for tomorrow night. Not sure if I still want to go or not, but may change my mind later today. I’m told room service at this place is top notch, though, so I bid you a Happy Thanksgiving.

Yours,

Evan

She let the thick stationary paper flutter to the floor at her feet and walked back over to pull the curtains clear of the windows. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons floated by, silent, since she was so high up in the air. She stared at them, felt her face get hot and whirled around, putting her hand down on the first thing she found, which turned out to be a heavy crystal bowl. It made a very satisfying shattering sound when it hit the wall then crashed to the floor. Putting her hand to her chest, she used every curse word she knew, plus several new ones, in conjunction with Evan Adams.

She had nothing. He’d hustled her out of the office without a laptop and she’d been so lust- or something-addled she’d let him. Who the fuck did he think he was, anyway? “I’ll be nearby. Call the desk if you need me,” she mimicked. Jesus.

She stomped away from the mess, stared at herself in the mirror a few minutes, then walked back out to sit on the barely rumpled bed. Fury was fading, fast replaced by self-pity – another emotion she’d not allowed herself for nearly fifteen years. Finally the emotional wagon train circled back around to anger. That utter asshole had barged into her life, with all his good looks and charm and stupid goddamned beer, and now here she sat, alone on Thanksgiving in a huge city.

Not that being by herself on Thanksgiving was anything new. Normally it was a day she spent at the gym in the morning and on a long walk in the afternoon, ignoring all the happy families and their touch football games and other bonding bullshit. All this followed by her favorite Chinese food, maybe a cable movie, and an early bedtime. It was just another stupid day and meant nothing. Why was she so put out over it?

The little voice rose again. She’d been a bitch. Acted like a petulant immature teenager. He had meant her no harm and had only confessed something important about himself. And there was no denying the odd calming effect he had on her. Maybe there was something to his personality quirk. While certainly not innocuous, maybe the whole “I only want to control the parts of you that need controlling” stuff was… not a bad thing.

“Oh, hell no.” She jumped up, unwilling to entertain it even in her own rattled brain. She’d been abused by her stepfather, rejected by her mother when she told her about it, gone to college and managed to find yet another asshole man who used her body then disappeared leaving her with no hope of grad school. Then she’d finagled herself into the admin job at Dawson, and now? Now she was the motherfucking queen of that universe, thank you very much. No man – no matter who he thought he was, or what he might do to her – was ever going to be in charge of anything about her, ever.

She wandered back into the main room, called housekeeping and told them about the accident with the bowl, and ordered herself a giant cheeseburger, only realizing when she hung up she had no idea what time of day it was and she had taken Evan’s advice without realizing it. She sat clutching her phone so tight her knuckles hurt by the time she let go of it. She made a call, on autopilot, reaching out to the one person she trusted implicitly.

“Hey, doll,” James said when he answered. “Doing your usual ignore the holiday thing?”

“Hi,” she whispered, tears pressing against the backs of her eyes. Her head hurt, her throat ached, and nausea still lurked underneath the surface. “How are things in paradise?”

“Oh, you know, perfect. What’s wrong, Julie? You sound like you might have grown a soul or something in the last few months.”

“If I did I wouldn’t tell you about it.” She sniffled and tucked her feet up underneath her.

“I suppose that’s true. So… seriously, why the odd call on a day traditionally reserved for calls to people you love?”

“I don’t know, James. We haven’t talked in a while… I’m just a little lonely, maybe.”

“Stop the presses, her majesty the queen of fuck-off-rest-of-the-world needs human companionship? Somebody alert the authorities.” She could hear the ocean in the background and figured he’d walked outside onto the massive patio of his and Grant’s house. “Julie, ’fess up. Is this about a man?”

“Fuck off. I’m hanging up now.”

“Wait, wait, I’m sorry. I mean it.”

She sucked in a breath, not even sure why she’d called the guy. His next words reminded her.

“Julie, sweetheart, what is it? You know if you need me I’ll be there as fast as a private jet will carry me. Are you in a bind of some sort? Need money? Should I come back and help run things? I know Mother would love that.”

“No, James, your mother is better off thinking you are living in sin with some harlot and letting me run things than knowing the truth.”

“What? That I’m living in sin with a man and letting you run things? I swear I’m ready to enlighten her.”

“No. It’s not that.” She bit her lip, not even sure how to ask for help, having gone so long without doing that very thing.

“It’s not your mom, is it? I know she sometimes tries to get all motherly around major holidays.”

Julie shut her eyes. James knew the bones of her story – but not the full-on horrific details. He’d helped shield her from her mother’s various efforts to try and reconnect. Her chest constricted at the realization of the web of lies and half-truths she’d woven in and out of everything she’d done, every relationship she’d had. “No, it’s not her.”

“Well, then, obviously I’m right – it’s a man. Do you need me to come and help you bury the body? Poor guy…”

“Oh God, James, will you just stop it?” She got up and started pacing. A sharp spike of pain hit her bare foot at the exact moment she remembered the giant pile of glass on the floor. “Oh fuck, fuck, fuck!” She jumped around on one foot, trying to get the hell away from it before she skewered her other instep.

“Babe, you’re confusing me here,” James insisted.

“Oh, never mind,” she said, sitting and staring at the blood now dripping from a gash in her foot. It pounded in time with her heart, which also set off a corresponding thump-thump in her temples. “I’m just hung over and feeling shitty. So I called you – in a weak moment. I’m over it.” She winced as she pulled the huge shard of glass from her flesh. “And yeah, there is a man. One who dragged my ass all the way to New York for the weekend and decided to leave me alone all day to ponder my bad behavior last night.”

“Wow. Really? I gotta meet this guy and shake his hand.”

“Well, I’m not gonna just sit here in this stupid hotel suite and pout about it.”

“Hotel suite, eh? Sounds like a great excuse to get a massage and some other pampering while being punished.”

“Maybe.” She pressed a wad of tissue to her bleeding foot.

“Listen, Julie, I think any man who surprises you with a trip to New York on a holiday you usually spend moping around by yourself is worth a second thought. I don’t know what you did to piss him off, but I can imagine and can only say he’s probably right. So, buck up, buttercup. Go spend an obscene amount of your own money on some self-love, order a killer room service dinner, and welcome him with open arms and a hot, naked body. I know you can manage that.”

“No. Fuck him. I’m going back home.”

“No, you aren’t. Go forth and relax. Then maybe talk to him. He may be onto something, making you ponder whatever shitty choices you made last night.”

“Whose side are you on, anyway?” She slumped back, realizing he was doing exactly what she wanted him to – convincing her to stick around and see Evan tomorrow.

“Yours, my love, as always. Now I have to go. My man has a lovely dinner made for us, and then I plan to thank him in a very personal manner. I love you. Call me if you need any more kicks in your tight ass.”

She stared at the phone gone dead in her hand, then back at her mangled foot.

Within an hour the Ritz had cleaned up the mess, sent up a doctor to tend to her foot, scheduled a massage and facial, and delivered the cheeseburger she’d ordered. She stared at it, her brain blank. She felt hollowed out, unsure of so many things, she couldn’t even focus on if she wanted to eat, puke, sleep, or run out into the cold New York day to clear her head.

She turned on the television, just to have some kind of noise that was not her own clanging conscience. The food tasted like heaven. Julie couldn’t remember the last time she’d had an honest-to-God cheeseburger. She devoured it, licking the grease off her fingers and dredging the crisp fries through a puddle of ketchup. Skipping her usual cable news fix, she found a mindless romantic comedy and sat back, cradling a giant glass of soda. The grease, protein, and carbs worked their way into her system, soaking up the residual alcohol and made her so sleepy she could hardly keep her eyes open. She set the glass on the table, then pulled a soft blanket over her legs.

When she awoke at the sound of loud knocking, she was sweating, panting, and in the grip of yet another panic attack. The blanket had slid to the floor, and her robe was bunched up around her waist. The ghostly sound of Bart’s voice and the smell of his cheap cologne made her gag and stumble to the bathroom, ignoring whoever was beating on the hotel room door. After deciding the cheeseburger and fries were staying put in her stomach, she brushed her teeth, fluffed out her now dry hair, and walked back out to find the masseur in place.

* * * *

By the time the room had darkened for the night, Julie had worked herself back around into a near-blinding fury. She’d tried to relax through the massage and facial, and had only succeeded in making herself frustrated by the whole process. Evan’s words – about liking it rough, setting the stage, and requiring her entire self and her trust – rolled through her mind like waves, but just when she thought they were gone, they returned, coating her nerves with a weird combination of anger and lust. And then that possessive bullshit move he’d pulled with the cute guy she’d just been innocently flirting with? Calling her drunk and treating her like some kind of sad sack date, tucking her into bed and ignoring the fact she was totally naked? For him? Screw that. He could stay gone.

She stared out the window, still sipping ginger ale, face hot and body oiled, pummeled, and loofahed within an inch of its life. She’d read the newspaper cover to cover, done some push-ups and sit-ups, and toyed with throwing on nightclub clothes and just getting the hell out of the room, but something held her back.

She got up, wincing when her bandaged foot hit the floor. Noting a scrap of black fabric half under the front hall table, she pulled it out. The stupid expensive designer dress mocked her. She held it to her nose, smelled a ghost of cigarette smoke, and something which was so quintessentially Evan – not cologne, but something more elemental – that her knees gave out. Leaning against the wall, she slid down to the cold marble floor, gripping the silk garment like a child’s blanket.

Tears spilled down her cheeks. Sobs ripped from her gut, making her chest ache, but she was incapable of stopping them. When she tried to calm down, it just got worse. She wanted her mother, but her mother hated her and called her a slut for seducing Bart. She needed Evan. But Evan had walked out on her on Thanksgiving, leaving her to bounce around this stupid hotel room like a little kid banished to her room. Her whole body convulsed, and she finally just curled into a ball in the foyer still clutching the dress.

BOOK: Mutual Release
9.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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