‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know it would be that … unpleasant.’
He chuckles. ‘Unpleasant, huh?’
‘A bit, yeah.’
My parents have gone to their room, leaving the brightly lit living room to us. The soft mumble of their voices signals their open door at the top of the staircase – an unspoken edict that Reid is not to set foot on the stairs, let alone into my bedroom.
They weren’t this watchful four years ago, when I was dating Colin, who pretended to be trustworthy and decent, not that I blame them for failing to see through his façade. I just wish they could understand that one of the things I respect about Reid is – oddly enough – the fact that he’s honest about who he is and what he wants, no matter what it is. I guess that’s why I believe him when he says he wants me. When he says he loves me.
‘Hey.’ He bumps my knee with his, and then turns to draw my legs over his and pull me closer. ‘You okay?’
He half-smiles. ‘C’mon now. You don’t think I’d let a little parental reproach stand in my way, do you? You know me better than that. I live for disapproval. It’s expected of me. My fans would think I was dying or something if parents started randomly approving of me.’
Travel is nothing unusual for me. Though getting from one place to another via various airports is tedious as all get-out, it’s just something to endure. It’s not panic-inducing, for chrissake. Even so, my flight leaves in three hours, and every time I think about landing in Austin, I feel like I’m going to puke.
One wheeled Louis Vuitton bag waits by the front door, and in ten minutes the other will join it, ready for the car service to transport me to LAX. I’ve put off calling Reid back, still unused to voluntarily sharing information with him. Doing so borders on trust – something altogether unnatural in conjunction with Reid Alexander. But I said I’d keep him posted, so I dial his number, fully expecting to go to voicemail.
Instead, he answers, annoyingly cheerful. ‘Hey, I was just about to call you.’
Balancing the phone between my shoulder and ear, I sweep a load of cosmetics from the vanity counter into a travel bag and zip it shut. ‘You know this is Brooke, right?’
‘I looked this time. Aren’t you proud?’
What right does he have to be so f**king happy? Oh, yeah. Because he’s Reid Alexander, who checks out of any sense of responsibility over anything ever. ‘Glancing at your screen before answering your phone is a debatable source of pride, Reid, though I guess you have to take it where you find it.’
He ignores the barb. ‘So what did you find out?’
Am I actually talking to Reid, or has some alien taken over his body? He’s too happy to be ill. Though I sure as hell know crazy people can be irrationally happy. ‘Uh, well, Bethany brought a photo of him –’
‘– and like I told you, he’s in foster care. Long-term foster care.’
‘What do you mean – “long-term”?’
‘The parental rights of his adoptive mother were officially terminated months ago. Her husband died a couple of years ago – Bethany’s checking on how, not that it matters. It looks like she started using meth after that and didn’t care who she took down with her. She’s been through court-ordered treatment twice and blew it both times, so she’s never getting him back.’ I think about a two-year-old River, left with no father and a drug-zombie of a mother – and I stuff two pairs of jeans into my case with more force than necessary. ‘I don’t know where she is now – jail, crack house, on the streets hooking for daily hits – and I don’t care.’
I roll my eyes at his second wow. I’m so not in the mood for his incredulity. Not when I’m damned sure he’s going to drop this cold as soon as he knows what I’m about to do.
‘I’m going to Austin.’
If question marks were audible, I’d have just heard one from his end.
‘That’s where he is – just south of Austin.’
‘So you’re going to go to Austin to – what?’ Suspicion laces his tone, not so glib now, like he’s finally getting it.
I told Kathryn and Bethany Shank that this trip was part responsibility, part curiosity, but that was stretching the truth. This child I’ve never seen or held exerts a deep, gravitational sort of draw. Against all odds, I feel a bond between us that has for four years surfaced on his birthday only. It isn’t mere curiosity pulling me to Texas and I know it.
‘I’m going to check on his situation. I’m going to find out … if I can get him back.’
Silence. Dead silence. I wish I could reclaim the words and leave them unsaid. It figures that Reid would be the one I blurt the whole truth to.
‘Brooke, the kid’s not a pair of Lanvin slingbacks. You can’t just put in an order at Barney’s and pick him up later. You gave up your rights to him. He can be adopted by someone else now, right? You gave him away –’
‘I know that, Reid. Don’t you think I f**king know that?’
I hate that he put it that way – gave him away. As if I sacrificed nothing to do it and traipsed off scot-free, like he did.
‘Yeah, okay, okay – but no one’s going to let you disrupt his life now just to –’
‘Disrupt his life? He’s in foster care. And I’m his mother.’