Hardline

Author: P Hana

Page 26

   

Out of my world again. I watched his retreat, relieved of the pressure of his resentment, yet infinitely more miserable than I’d been before.

CHAPTER NINE

I hesitated in the hallway, my hand resting on the door. Alli’s laughter with others carried beyond the walls of their new apartment. I wanted to celebrate and be happy for Alli and Heath, but I was on the other side of that emotion as long as Blake was keeping me at arm’s length.

He’d taken my request to not say anything at all and to leave too literally. A couple days had gone by. He’d worked late again last night, arriving after I’d fallen asleep and rising before I had. The only proof of his being there was an empty coffee mug in the sink. He always seemed just beyond my grasp, and though I was angry too, the distance was tearing me up inside.

I took a breath and pushed open the door, not remotely prepared for all the love that rushed around me whenever I was around Blake’s family. All of it was infectious too though, so I held some hope that they could pull me, and maybe even Blake too, out of this funk.

As if in perfect reflection of Alli and Heath’s energy, the apartment hummed with laughter, the buzz of conversation, and Alli’s loud whoop when the cork popped off the champagne.

“Erica!”

Blake’s younger sister, Fiona, ran over to hug me as I stepped into the main area. Catherine was right behind her, coming for a warm embrace as soon as Fiona stepped away.

“How are you, honey? You look wonderful.”

“I’m good. Thanks.” I gave a weak smile, self-consciously glancing down at the outfit I’d thrown together. I was surprised I wasn’t wearing two different shoes for how focused my brain had been lately. Black skirt, top, and ballet flats. That was hard to screw up.

When I met Catherine’s gaze again, a line of worry marked her forehead. I brightened instantly and plastered on a happy face. No matter what, I didn’t want my problems with Blake to upset Alli’s party. This was an important moment for her and Heath, and I was already worried about stealing her thunder with all this wedding madness that she reassured me we had to cover tonight.

Alli joined us, grabbed my hand, and pulled me farther in. “Let me give you the tour.”

“Sure.” I gave Heath and Greg a small wave before they disappeared out of view.

Alli took me room by room, through the space. The apartment lacked for nothing, on par with what I would expect from any Landon property. Warm colors, spacious rooms, and tasteful design. Some rooms were still cluttered with boxes, but for the most part, it already felt like a home, theirs.

“It’s beautiful, Alli.”

Her shoulders crept higher as she smiled. “Thanks. I love it. I’m so excited to make it ours. Heath has been working a lot, but hopefully soon we can do a little more to it.”

I smiled too, appreciating how far she and Heath had come. He’d only been out of rehab a couple weeks but they were now well on their way to better, to a normal life together. Alli was hard at work re-immersing in my business and Heath was doing the same with Blake’s. Blake wanted him more involved, and from everything I’d heard, he was taking the bull by the horns, investing himself more heavily than he ever had before.

Deep down I was happy for them, so very happy. But I couldn’t help but draw parallels to Blake and me. Even sharing an apartment, we felt farther apart than when I’d lived a floor below. Moving in together had been easy, too easy almost. I was hesitant at first, but at Blake’s insistence, my overstuffed trash bags that I’d moved a couple months earlier from the Harvard dorms took another trip up a flight of stairs. In less than twenty-four hours, my life had melded even more firmly into the organized wealth of his. While I enjoyed sharing the space, the apartment never really felt like mine, not the way Alli felt about this place now.

“I’m so happy for you,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady as Alli looked to me for reassurance, for my support as her best friend.

She smiled, content, and hooked her arm in mine. “Thanks, hon. I am happy. Now let’s go get extra happy and drink some champagne. We need to talk wedding details and work out the last stuff for the party with Fiona.”

“The party?”

Her eyes shot up, her hand going to her mouth. “Oh shit.”

“What?”

“Oh shit shit shit. Just forget I said it.”

I stopped our exit from the room. “Seriously, Alli. Just spill it.”

Her shoulders slumped. “It was supposed to be a surprise. Catherine wants to throw you two a little engagement party.”

I lifted my eyebrows. “Does Blake know?”

“Of course.”

“Why didn’t anyone tell me?”

“We thought it would be fun to make it a surprise. I know you’ve been stressed with everything that’s going down with the business right now. We didn’t want to add one more thing to your plate. And it’s no big deal, really. Just a small party at their house with some friends of the family who wanted to meet you and catch up with everyone.”

On cue, my stomach rolled. I couldn’t imagine who friends of the family entailed, but considering how tense things were between Blake and me, I could very well be flying solo for much of the event. That thought was far from comforting.

“Are you okay with that?”

“I’m fine,” I insisted. “It sounds like fun. If I can help with anything let me know.”

“Don’t worry about it. I think Catherine’s got everything covered. All you two need to do is show up and be yourselves.”

She grabbed my hand and gave me a reassuring squeeze as we reemerged into the main living area. Fiona was filling the flutes, getting as close to the rim as she could without the foam spilling over.

“Where’d the guys go?” I asked.

Fiona sat back onto the couch with her glass. “Upstairs. There’s a rooftop deck. Really nice after the sun goes down on nights like this.”

I wondered if Blake had arrived and was already up there with his dad and brother, but I was embarrassed to admit that I had almost no idea where he’d been for the past day and night. I wanted to believe today might be different. The company of his family always seemed to make Blake seem more human, less godlike in a way. Maybe around them we could let down this wall between us so we could talk, really talk. Newly engaged, we were supposed to be in love, stable, wanting to be with each other. Right now we could barely share a room without palpable tension between us.

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