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Beautiful Ever After, Page 2

Georgia Cates

  Pretty bras and panties. New jeans and tops. Yoga pants and T-shirts. Accessories. None of it makes me feel better. Not even a little. Maybe that’s why I didn’t buy much. But then again, there’s no need to buy a lot of things until I find somewhere to live.

  Somewhere to live. That has to be my next focus. I only have two weeks to find a place and get settled before classes begin. It can be done but it’s going to be hectic. There’s not a minute to waste.

  I accepted Rachel’s invitation to have dinner with her and Claud. It was nice to not spend the evening alone. But it’s bedtime now and that’s what I am. Alone.

  I wish Rachel would come and invade my bed like she did so many times at our flat so we could talk. But I know she won’t. Claud is going out of town tomorrow. He’ll be gone for a week, and he’ll want Rachel in his bed tonight.

  Just like Hutch wanted me in his bed.

  I don’t know how much time passes after I throw myself across the bed. It could be seconds, minutes, hours. Elements of time are indistinguishable in this dark place without Hutch.

  It’s our second night apart. I wonder if he’s missing me as he lies beside the empty spot where I used to sleep. Did he wake and reach for me this morning before he remembered that I was gone?

  At some point, I become a pathetic, crying wreck. Didn’t I swear that this would never be me? That I would never be this woman, the one who lies in the dark crying for a man she can’t have?

  I’m such a fool.

  To regret meeting Hutch would be to wish him away, and I can never do that. The agony I feel in my heart is worth even the briefest time we had together.

  Maybe tomorrow will be better.

  But probably not.


  Maxwell Hutcheson

  I wake and reach for Lou, finding the spot on the bed next to me empty. And my heart sinks. Again.

  Eight days without her. I thought that I would have found her by now.

  It’s odd, but I find comfort in spending time with Ava Rose. Being with her reminds me of the days we spent with Lou, days when we felt like a real family.

  Calvin is driving us to my parents in Glasgow. Ava Rose and I are in the back seat of the car, and she’s looking at me. I can’t help but wonder if she misses Lou as much as I do. Is she wondering why she’s gone? For some reason, I believe she is. “You don’t have to worry, lassie. I’m going to bring Lou back to you. Back to both of us.”

  Ava Rose fusses a wee bit and I stroke my thumb down the center of her forehead and bridge of her nose, a little trick that Lou taught me. It takes a few minutes but the massage eventually soothes her to sleep, same as when Lou used to do it to her.

  Lou was always so good with Ava Rose. Just like a real mum would be.

  We arrive at my parents’ and Mum takes Ava Rose from me. “Lou’s not with you?”


  “That’s too bad. I was hoping she would be.”

  I was hoping to put off the Lou conversation until later. I’m not looking forward to discussing it, but I might as well get it over with.

  Mum carries Ava Rose into the living room and works on unbuckling her.

  “I have something to tell you about Lou.”

  She lifts Ava Rose out of the car seat and holds her up in the air, making funny faces at her. “Oh, wee lassie. What has your dad done now?”

  “Why do you assume that I did something wrong?”

  There it is, that I’m-your-mum-and-I-know-everything look. “Is my assumption inaccurate?”

  “I’ve messed up… but it isn’t entirely my fault.”

  “Then which part is your fault?”

  I don’t look forward to telling my mum half-truths. But I also don’t want her to think poorly of Lou or me. That’s why I can’t confess that Lou was an escort whom I paid a lot of money to be my secret lover. “I guess I should start by admitting that we were seeing each other in secret. The immediate family knew about her but I never had intentions of telling anyone else about our relationship.”

  “How long have you been sneaking around with her?”

  “Three months.”

  “Trust me. She isn’t fine with being your secret, and if you understood anything about women, you’d already know that.”

  “Secrecy isn’t our problem. I think Blair did something to make Lou leave me.”

  “Lou is gone?” I hear the disappointment in my mum’s voice and it cuts me to the bone.

  “She left eight days ago after a visit from Blair. Mrs. McVey told me that Lou was upset and crying after their conversation. I know she did something to her.”

  “It certainly sounds as though something happened. Have you spoken to Blair?”

  “She claims nothing happened between them, but I don’t believe that for a second.”

  “I don’t either,” Mum says.

  “I’ve reached out to Lou a hundred times, but she won’t respond to my texts or take my calls.” She’s blocked me. I know she has.

  “Was everything all right between the two of you before Blair came around?”

  “Yes… and no.”

  “What does yes and no mean?”

  I never confided in Mum about my relationship with Mina. It feels a wee bit odd to be discussing my love life with her. “Lou told me she loved me.”

  Mum’s head jolts around and her eyes widen. “She did, huh? What was your response to that?”

  She looks so hopeful. And I’m about to shatter it all to pieces.

  “I didn’t say it back.” Instead, I fucked her and told her to close her eyes and she’d be able to feel how important she was to me. What a stupid dobber thing to say to a woman.

  I love you. Why didn’t I say those words back to her? It would have changed everything. She wouldn’t have left me no matter what Blair said. I’m sure of it.

  “I think I owe you an apology. It seems I’ve meddled in your life when I shouldn’t have.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I visited Lou a few weeks ago. She told me she loved you and I urged her to tell you so because I thought you felt the same. I’m sorry, son. I wouldn’t have encouraged her if I had known you didn’t have those kinds of feelings for her.”

  “But I do, Mum. I love Lou very much.” I didn’t know I could feel this way. I never had these kinds of feelings for Mina.

  “But you didn’t tell Lou you loved her.”

  “I hadn’t yet worked it out in my head that I loved her too. By the time I realized the truth, she was already gone. She left without knowing that I love her.” And that kills me.

  “Oh, Max.” Mum shakes her head and closes her eyes for at least three beats of my heart. “You were in love with Lou when you brought her home. 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 it was so apparent to me.”

  “I chose to not see it because I didn’t want to fall in love with her. But I see the truth now. And I’m going to find her and tell her how I feel. I’m going to make this right.”

  “It’s been over a week. What’s taking so long?”

  Good question. It’s going to be hard to explain why I don’t know where Lou lives so I’m choosing to not go there. “She’s been very good at evading me.”

  “Blair must have said or done something terrible to make Lou cut you off like this.”

  “I’m sure she did but she’ll never admit to it.”

  “That poor lass must be hurting. She believes her love for you is not returned, which would be devastating. It’s no wonder she slipped away without a goodbye.”

  “I’ve been an asshat. I know that, Mum, but I’m going to make this right with her.” I have to. Because the alternative is unacceptable.

  “You’ve hurt Lou in a terrible way. She may not be interested in your making this right. It might be wise to prepare yourself for rejection.”

  The thought of Lou rejecting me is painful, but it’s a reality that I can’t
ignore. “I’m going to do everything within my power to make it up to her. I hate what my life looks like without her in it. And when I find her, I’m never letting her go again.”

  “What does never letting her go again mean?” I hear the question that Mum’s not asking.

  “Ava Rose and Lou love each other. Lou and I love each other. I’d be a fool to let her get away again.” The words are frightening to say out loud, but I need to say them. I need to hear them from my own lips. “I want Lou to be my wife.”

  Mum’s lips part but nothing comes out.

  “I know what you’re thinking and it’s true. We’ve only known each other for three months but it’s been the happiest three months of my life. She makes me feel alive, more so than I have in years, and I’m miserable without her.”

  “I think it’s wonderful, Max.”

  “Do you really?”

  “I do. But the Lochridges aren’t going to think it’s wonderful. You should be prepared for trouble out of them.”

  “I expect problems but this is my life and I want Lou in it. They’re going to have to accept her.”

  And fuck them if they don’t.

  That’s what I have to say about that.


  Caitriona Louden

  Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I look at myself. And I grasp the reality of the situation for what it is. I look like hell.

  Rachel will be here soon. I don’t want her to see me looking as though I’m knocking on death’s door so I dab concealer on the dark circles below my lower lids. The cover-up helps to camouflage my lack of sleep, but no amount of makeup is going to hide the sadness in my eyes or my sunken cheeks.

  I don’t have to get on the scale to confirm that I’ve lost weight. The clothes I bought two weeks ago are falling off of me. And I don’t see that improving anytime soon. I can’t eat because my gut is in knots all of the time.

  Rachel has brought my favorite foods by every night this week. I’ve forced down a few bites each time to make her happy, but anything more sends me dashing toward the bathroom. And tonight is no different.

  “Three bites of a sandwich aren’t enough. You need to eat more.”

  I love that Rachel is here looking after me. And I want to eat for her. But I can’t.

  “Believe me, I would if I could but it makes me sick. It’s better to keep the three bites down than push myself and throw all of it up.”

  Rachel looks up from her plate, studying me. “Is there any chance that you could be pregnant?”

  “No way. I’m on the pill.”

  “People get pregnant on the pill, Cait.”

  Hutch and I were having sex without condoms. A lot. I don’t have a clue how many times he came inside me the last week we spent together. But I don’t think a pregnancy is possible given his history. “I don’t think Hutch can have children.”

  “Does he have problems in the erection section?”

  I laugh and it’s the first time in two weeks. “No. He definitely does not have any problems in the erection section.”

  “Then why would you think he’s not able to have children?”

  It won’t hurt anything to tell Rachel the truth. It’s not as though she’s going to tell anyone. “His wife couldn’t get pregnant by him, but she did get pregnant by another man while she was having an affair.”

  “Did they try to conceive for a long time?”

  “She was the one trying… without Hutch’s knowledge.”

  “For real? What a bitch.”

  Bitch doesn’t even begin to cover what Mina was.

  “He’s not sure how long she was off of her birth control, but it was a while. She was also taking fertility drugs and she still didn’t get pregnant.”

  “Sounds like he’s sterile.”

  “If he is, I’ll never know.” Because we aren’t going to be together. And even if we were, he doesn’t want children.

  “I’m sorry about that, Cait. I know how much you love him, but you can’t go on living like this. It’s not good for you.”

  “I know. I just need a little more time and it’ll be better.” It feels like I break a little more each day, but it has to begin to get better at some point, right? I can’t still be like this a month, six months, or a year from now.

  This is day fourteen without being awakened by Hutch’s touch, without seeing his handsome face and naughty grin in the morning, without hearing him tell me how much he wants me just one more time before he has to leave the bed and get ready for work.

  I love those memories even if they haunt me. I can’t regret a single one of them because that would be to wish them away. And I can’t do that.

  “Classes start tomorrow. That will be a good distraction for you.”

  “I hope so.” I need a diversion, something to break my current train of thought.

  I’m sinking slowly and I can’t find a way to breathe. My tears are weighing me down, and I don’t have the strength or desire to try to make it to the top of the surface for air.

  Is it possible to die of a broken heart?

  I guess we’ll find out.

  Lease a flat close to campus and pay through the nose for it? Or live farther away, take the train into Edinburgh, and walk twenty minutes to campus? Those were my choices. And because I’m frugal and need this money to last for as long as possible, I’m riding the train this and every other morning.

  I don’t mind the train. I can use the time to study or work on my manuscript. Even if it is the story about Hutch and me with one exception: the fiction has a happy ending.

  I sit in my seat, waiting for everyone else to leave the train. I’m in no hurry to fall into that crowd of people rushing to wherever they needed to be five minutes ago. And I’m in no hurry to return to my old life at uni, my life before Hutch.

  It’s as though my life is in reverse instead of moving forward. Reverse or forward, both are minus Hutch. And I hate it.

  I look at his picture on my phone and stroke my finger over his five-o’clock shadow. It feels nothing like the real thing. His stubbly face would feel so prickly in the morning and then again at the end of the day, especially by the time he came to bed. Oh, how I miss that bristled roughness against my face, my stomach, my inner thighs.

  My everything.

  I slip my phone into my backpack and leave the train. The knot in my stomach tightens when I pass the spot where Hutch was always waiting for me at Waverley Station. This is the first time he’s not there to pick me up. And he never will be again.

  My mind has played tug-of-war all day. One minute I’m immersed in whatever the professor has to say, and then the next minute I’m back at the Hutcheson estate with the man I love. And it has to stop. I can’t live like this. It’s maddening.

  I’m on the train again, looking out the window and listening to my favorite playlist—the one I listen to while I write. ‘If You Ever Did Believe’ by Stevie Nicks is playing. I’ve always loved the sound of the song, but I don’t think I’ve ever paid much attention to the lyrics until now.

  A single tear slides down my cheek and I reach up, wiping it away and hoping that no one sitting around me notices that I’m crying.

  I twist my body toward the window when someone takes the seat beside me and I’m annoyed when that person begins talking to me. Can’t you see that I have AirPods in my ears? That’s the universal sign meaning that I don’t want to talk, asshole. I just want to ride the train in peace.

  I jerk my head around, simultaneously removing my AirPod. “I’m sorry. What was that?”

  “I said hello, Cait.”


  No. Fucking. Way.

  This isn’t happening.

  Except it is.

  “It’s been too long since I’ve seen you. I’ve been wondering how you are.”

  “I’m fine. Great, actually.” Cameron glances at the backpack by my feet. “I’m back at uni for my final year.”

  “I called you on your birthday and then again
about a month ago. I spoke to a man. He told me that he was your boyfriend?”

  Hutch told Cameron he was my boyfriend?

  Why does that make my chest ache so deeply?

  “Yeah, he told me about your conversation.”

  “That’s surprising. I didn’t think he would.”

  God, I loved the possessive tone I heard in Hutch’s voice when he asked about Cameron. Jealous, even. “He wanted to know who you were and why you were calling me.”

  “He sounds insecure about your relationship.”

  “Hutch isn’t insecure. He’s possessive of what belongs to him. There’s a difference.”

  “You belong to him?” Cameron chuckles. “You’ve never belonged to anyone your entire life, Cait.”

  I spent a lot of years belonging to no one. And then Hutch claimed me as his. And I let him. I gave him my body and then I gave him my heart. I wanted nothing more than to be his. And I coveted every moment we were together.

  “I belonged to him. But it’s over now.”

  “I don’t hate to hear that because I have things I need to say to you.” Cameron reaches for my hand. “I am truly sorry for what I did to you. You have no idea how much I regret being with that woman. She was the biggest fucking mistake of my life. That one night with her cost me you.”

  I needed to hear Cameron say these things to me ten months ago. Not that it would have made a difference but it would have made me feel better to hear that he was suffering a little.

  “You were my first everything. I gave myself to you because I believed that you loved me and then the minute my back was turned, you had a one-night stand with another woman. A stranger that you didn’t even know. There aren’t many things lower than that.”

  “Everything you’re saying is true. I was stupid and it was a mistake.”

  “I appreciate that you’re able to see the wrong in what you did to me.”

  “Do you think you can forgive me?”

  “What you did to me… it hurt. It hurt a lot. But it stopped hurting when I met Hutch, and I forgave you. I forgave you because I no longer cared about what you did to me.”