Fuck, Mum's gonna be pissed. "I have to tell you something and you're not going to be happy with me about it."
She's glaring at me. "I'm quite put out with you already, son."
"I know, and it's about to get worse." I feel like a kid again, fessing up about something juvenile. Only this isn't juvenile. It's adult and very serious. "When Laurelyn and I began dating, we had no expectations of ever becoming more than a temporary relationship. We both knew she was in Australia for three months so we agreed to date and have fun together during that time. No strings attached."
She looks annoyed. "You've already told me that."
I brace myself for the worst. "I did but that's not all of it. I didn't tell her my real name when we met. I didn't want her to know because I didn't want contact of any kind with her after our relationship ended. Using an alias was the one way I could ensure she wouldn't track me down afterward. She was pretty pissed when I first told her what I wanted, but she eventually agreed. Since she didn't know my real name, she chose to not tell me hers."
"Laurelyn isn't her name?" she asks, her expression puzzled.
"Laurelyn is her first name. I accidentally discovered it when her friend let it slip, but her last name, Beckett, is an alias. She never told me her last name."
I can almost see my mum's brain in action as she pieces everything together. "But you brought her home to meet us and she called you Jack Henry."
"There was no hiding my identity when we came to see Dad at the hospital, so I told her the truth about myself later that night," I explain. "From that moment on, she knew everything about me."
"But you never thought she was important enough to ask her last name?" She's raising her voice at me. "Even after she knew who you were?"
I hesitate in answering because she isn't going to like my response. "Her last name didn't matter to me because I didn't intend on changing our plans just because she knew who I was. I didn't love her then."
"Bullshit!" she yells at me. "You were in love with that girl when you brought her into my house. I knew it the minute I saw the two of you together. And she was so obviously in love with you. She might not have told you yet, but you'd have to be a fool to not see it."
I can't argue with her assessment because I've most certainly been a fool.
I prop my arms on the cold granite countertop and lean over, closing my eyes. I'd like to put my head down against the cool to see if I can find some relief because it hurts like a motherfucker. "I chose to not see it because I didn't want to fall in love with her."
"But you did anyway."
"Yeah, I did, and she left without saying goodbye, before I could tell her."
"I can not believe you, Jack Henry!" Mum picks up her purse to smack me several good times. Hard. She's the only mother I know who would use her handbag to beat her thirty-year-old son. "She lived with you and shared your bed and you never asked her last name?" She draws back and whacks me again. Shit! She's really mad.
I don't deflect the purse flying at me because it's her way of releasing her anger. It's really sort of humorous, but I'd never make the mistake of laughing at Margaret McLachlan when she's in one of her fits. "That poor girl must've been so hurt. I can't say I really blame her for slipping away without a goodbye. I'd have probably done the same thing if I'd told a man I loved him and he stared blankly at me."
"Then what did you do?"
I hang my head in shame with the thought of how I fucked her afterward. "You don't want to know." I go to the drawer where I keep the medicines so I can get something for my headache. "I know how stupid I've been, Mum. But I'm gonna make it right with Laurelyn. I know lots of other things about her life that will lead us to her."
"I've hired someone to go to the States to find her. A private investigator." I leave off the particulars about my extensive use of his services and why I know he'll find her for me in no time at all.
"You should be the one to go after Laurelyn. It'll mean more to her if you do," she argues.
"I wish I could, but I don't have the necessary skills to track her down."
"Son, I'm not sure finding her is going to be your biggest problem. You've hurt her in a terrible way. She may not forgive you, so it might be smart to prepare yourself for rejection."
The thought of Laurelyn rejecting me is painful but it's a reality I can't ignore. "I'm going to do everything in my power to make it up to her because I hate what me without her looks like. I'm going to win her back, and when I do, I'm never letting her go again."
I think she suspects what I'm implying but I decide to clear it up for her so there's no misunderstanding. "I don't want to ever spend another day without Laurelyn. When I find her, I'm going to ask her to be my wife."
I stand in front of the mirror and look at myself. I look like hell.
I smudge coverup under my eyes to disguise the dark circles but there's no hiding the misery there. No amount of makeup is going to camouflage that. I pointlessly sweep some blush across my cheeks, but it only makes my face appear more sunken and my eyes bigger. I don't have to get on the scales to know I've lost weight. If my face doesn't prove it, my loose clothes do.
My food situation is almost nonexistent but I can't make myself go grocery shopping. It doesn't matter anyway. I can't eat. The pizza I ordered two nights ago is still sitting almost untouched in the fridge. A few bites—that's all I could force down before it almost sent me running to the bathroom. That's what I'm reduced to. I miss him so badly, the misery of being away from him makes me sick.
I know I can't continue like this. I'm still waiting for it to get better. Come on, it has to get better at some point, right?
I've survived almost two weeks without Jack Henry. It's day twelve I've been without his touch, without hearing his voice, without feeling him next to me in bed at night. It hasn't been easy. If I'm being truthful, it's been the worst hell I've ever experienced in my life—well beyond any pain I've ever felt before.
My mother has begged me all week to come over to see her—and my father. She's so happy about being reunited with his married ass. Even having not been taught how wrong it is to be with a married man, I still know it's not right. The only good part of her obsession is that she's been too wrapped up in him to come by to check on me.
I sigh as I finish my makeup and assess the situation. It's a poor one, I'm afraid. I look miserable and I'm certain Blake is going to believe it's all for him. It sickens me to think of seeing him today, but I can't hide in this apartment for the rest of my life. I have a career that requires attention. My manager, David, was very clear when he told me to get my ass straightened out and down to the label to salvage what career I have left. It's either do as he says, or he's dropping me. I can't allow that to happen.
I recall his words and want to puke. Laurelyn, you kiss Blake's ass or whatever it takes to make this right.
Nothing is going to make this right. It sickens me further that my future and career is dependent on Blake Phillips. He holds the power to ruin me if he tells the right industry people that I walked out on him during the recording. No one will care about the circumstances leading up to why I did it.
I make the drive to the studio and sit in my car for a few minutes gathering my thoughts—and strength—before I get out. It's not Blake I'm nervous about. It's the idea of reentering my old life, my life before Jack Henry. I'm overwhelmed by the thought of entering that building because it feels like I'm going backward. I hate it.
I look at his picture on my phone, stroking my finger over his five o'clock shadow and remembering how stubbly his face would feel at the end of the day, especially by the time he came to bed. Oh, how I miss its roughness against my face. My stomach. My inner thighs. My…
I have to stop this. As much as I'd like to, I can't sit in my car outside the studio and mind-fuck Jack Henry all day.
I take a deep breath and straighten my shoulders before I walk into the building leading to my past. I'm waiting for the elevator when I feel a presence behind me. I know it's him—Blake. I don't have to look to know but I pretend I don't realize anyone is there. He doesn't say a word and I wonder if it's because he didn't know I was coming and he's shocked to see me. I hope he's speechless because he's ashamed of what he did to me.
When the doors ding open, I step inside and he follows me. We're alone in the small space. Thank God it's only for the brief ride up to the twelfth floor because the tension is suffocating.
My eyes are locked straight ahead and I say nothing. I see him in my peripheral vision, blatantly staring at me, but I don't acknowledge him. I pretend he's invisible—because that's what he is to me.
"Laurelyn," he says as he reaches for my arm. I step back so he misses it. "Don't be this way. I've missed you."
I escape him through the opening doors without uttering a word. We'll speak soon enough when I'm forced to talk to him about our recording contract—and I will talk business—but I refuse to address personal things or our past. As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing to discuss.
David is waiting in the studio, and he crosses the distance between us. Despite his anger, he embraces me. "Laurelyn, I'm very happy you came. I wasn't sure you'd show but I'm glad to see you're here."
It's good to see David. He has been a presence in my life for a long time and I've missed him. He knows nothing about the things that occurred between Blake and me, and that's the way I plan to keep it. I don't want him to be disappointed in me for jeopardizing my career by becoming involved with my producer—married or not.