“I can buy it back,” he said matter-of-factly.
I stared back at him, confused. “Why?”
“Because the business should be yours.”
“But I sold it.”
“So we’ll buy it back. I’ll make Isaac an offer he can’t refuse.”
My eyes widened. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
That lightened the grimace that had marked his face for most of the evening. He stroked my knee with this thumb. “Don’t worry, I don’t use Daniel’s methods.”
I shook my head, not wanting to think about that on top of everything else that had gone horribly wrong as of late. “It’s not worth it, Blake. I sold it. He said he genuinely wanted it. So…now he has it.” I sighed, the reality that owning the business was officially in the past settling over me. “At least I cashed out. I can pay you back now. I wanted to give myself some freedom to do new things, so now I just have to figure out what to do with all that freedom. Ironic, huh?”
Blake released a frustrated groan. “For the hundredth time, you do not need to pay me back. It’s a moot point. We’ll be sharing assets soon enough. This isn’t about the money, and you know it.”
“The business was always more than the money. But…” I bit my lip, closing my eyes. It was gone, all gone now. “I have to learn how to let it go. I have to figure out how to start over.”
I opened my stinging eyes and saw the resentment that we both shared now in his. It cut through me, his emotions validating my own. Nothing felt quite like betrayal, or finding yourself on the floor because you were too blind to see it coming.
I couldn’t help feeling that Sophia had won somehow, but I was powerless to change what had happened.
* * *
The next few days went by without incident. Blake had taken some time off to be with me, to make sure I didn’t go catatonic, even though everything in me wanted to. But eventually, work called him back to the office. He had responsibilities. Purpose. Two things I now lacked.
Alli called. So many people had called. Even Marie, but Alli’s were the only calls I’d answer. I couldn’t handle telling people the story over and over again. Listening to their pitying reactions. Asking me what I was going to do now. Alli was the only one who understood what I was going through.
“Have you heard anything?” I asked.
“I talked to James last night. I guess Sid left.”
“Good,” I muttered, picking at the rip in my jeans.
“James is staying because he needs the job right now, so he’s waiting this out.”
I nodded. “I can’t blame him. It’s a messed up situation.”
“No kidding. I really don't think they expected you to leave, Erica.”
No one was more surprised than I was.
“Did you talk to Heath?” I asked tentatively.
I waited for her to tell me more. I didn’t want to push if she didn’t want to talk about it. It was their business.
“Are you guys okay?”
“We’re fine. We talked, a lot. I’ll tell you about it later. It doesn’t really matter now.”
“Okay,” I said, content to leave it at that.
“Marie called me. She was worried when you weren’t answering your calls and they said you weren’t at the office anymore.”
I closed my eyes, unable to comprehend facing Marie and adding one more hurtful thing to the pile of ashes my life had become. I didn’t want to think about the invisible barrier that had crept up between us. Her knowing I was angry with her, and my unwillingness to let it go. I wasn’t sure how we would get past it. As much as I wanted to hold on to my resentment, I wanted her to admit Richard was using her and hurting us both. Maybe she would. Maybe enough time had gone by.
“I’ll text her,” I finally said.
“You should call her, Erica. She’s really worried.”
“Did you tell her about the business?”
“Yeah, I didn’t figure you’d mind.”
“I’d rather someone else tell her. I might even tell one of the reporters who keeps calling so they can broadcast it to the world. I never want to have to tell that story.”
I swallowed down my tears. I didn’t hate a lot of people. I didn’t have room in my heart for it, but I made a special place for Sophia, Isaac, and Alex. A place untouchable from forgiveness or pity. A place that couldn’t be erased with time. I would never forgive them. Never.
“I have to go.”
She was quiet. “Okay. Call me if you need to.”
“I will. Thank you.”
I hung up and promptly cried myself to sleep.
* * *
By day five, I realized I needed to leave the apartment. I was a wreck, and I needed to get back out into the world, even if it was only in a small way.
I took a walk down the street, parked myself on a bench, and watched people for about an hour. Across the street, people went in and out of the market. Going in empty handed, they left with bags full of groceries and wine.
We’d been living on takeout and Blake’s sometimes-successful cooking projects. I was starving for a home-cooked meal. I felt empty in so many ways, and somehow I wondered if a lot of pasta could fill up those places. At least for an hour or two.
A pang of sadness hit me when I thought about my mom. Maybe she was what I was looking for, but I’d have to settle for recreating one of her delicious meals. I walked across the street and threw myself into shopping for every one of my favorite dishes that she’d taught me how to make. I had more bags than I could comfortably carry. When my phone rang, I cursed.
I stepped to the edge of the sidewalk and set the bags down to dig through my purse. The number was local but not one I recognized.
“Erica?” A man’s familiar voice greeted me, but I couldn’t place it.
“Who is this?”
My jaw set, my stomach clenching.
“I know who you are. You’re the reason I’ve been fighting off reporters for the past couple weeks.”
“Right. I’m sorry about that.”
He sighed. “Listen, I was hoping we could talk.”
“No.” My tone was pure acid.
“Hear me out.”
“I won’t be giving you an exclusive, if that’s what you’re after. Not to you, and not to anyone else. Find someone else to give you the story you’re looking for.”