The Fake
CHAPTER
31
How Long Has This Been Going On
Claire
I’d just gotten home from seeing Grayson when my phone buzzed.
Need to talk. Urgent. Sydney’s message read.
I wondered if she’d seen the news. There was a part of me that hoped she hadn’t—that hoped this urgent matter was about how awesome her date was last night or about buying a new pair of shoes or something. I’d listen to anything to escape this nightmare for just a few hours.
Meet at my apartment in 15? I messaged back. Dad had escaped to his room to “sleep” but I still didn’t want to leave him.
“See you in ten.”
I went out to tidy the living room when there was a tap on the door.
Sydney already?
Not Sydney, Grayson.
I grinned and threw my arms around his neck. I’d just seen him and already he was coming to check up on me. Best boyfriend ever.
I led him into the family room and asked if he wanted a soda. He shook his head and rubbed his hands on his jeans. His forehead creased and he scrunched his eyes shut.
“Claire,” his voice cracked. “I have to tell you something.”
“Ooo, A deep dark secret?” I hoped he’d laugh.
He didn’t. He just took a deep breath and took my hand.
“I should have told you at the cafe. I just... It’s so hard to say.”
I nodded, unable to speak. Was going to break up with me? Had I done something wrong?”
“Claire, I…” he cleared his throat. “I know how the thieves got the code to get in.”
My stomach sank to my toes and I closed my eyes, wishing I could shut out whatever he was about to say. “How?” I croaked.
“Me,” he said.
I slid my hand away from his and scooted back on the couch. “You what?”
“When you and I went to the gallery, I looked over your shoulder and memorized it. Claire, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know they would…”
“You know who did this?” I whispered.
“Yes...no...it’s complicated.”
Anger welled up inside of me. More anger than I’d ever felt. More anger than when Mom left. “Tell me!” I spat.
“I...,” his voice cracked. “I can’t. I’m so sorry. I know I should have...”
I stood, my knees quivering beneath me. “Then get out.”
“I know you’re angry. You have every right to be. I can explain.”
My heart quivered in my chest. It wanted me to let him tell me why he’d do something like this—why would he betray every bit of trust I had in him. But my mind said I’d had enough. I didn’t know why he’d done it because it didn’t matter why.
If he’d stolen the code and given it to the people who hurt us, something had been much more important to him than me and my feelings and my dad’s life. If he was unwilling to give names it obviously still was. I’d told him I loved him and he’d taken everything. My dad was a crumpled shell of a man because of him. I’d trusted him completely and now I had nothing.
Grayson stood in front of me, eyes pleading.
“You need to leave.” I walked to the door and set my jaw.
He hunched his shoulders and rubbed his hand over his face as he followed me to the door, turned the knob and stepped into the hallway. “Claire, I’m so sorry. There are reasons. Not good ones really, but things you should know. Will you let me call and explain?”
I nodded, even though I knew in my heart I’d never pick up another call from Grayson Bannister again. And then I shut the door, walked calmly to my room, and fell apart.
Someone tapped on my bedroom door. Thinking it was Dad, I wiped my eyes, turned the lock and opened the door wide.
Sydney practically tackled me when she came in. “Claire!” Her face was blotchy like she’d been crying too.
I stood, unmoving, as Sydney’s arms clenched around me in a hug that felt more like a death grip.
“My…Dad…left,” she sobbed. “He left a note. He was into something bad, so he just left.”
“Something bad.” I repeated, trying to be the friend she needed right now, but not really capable of processing more grief. I looked up and saw “Garden Valley” hung from the hook over my bed. Had Sydney seen it?
Did it matter?
“It’s worse than that,” she continued. “He drained all the bank accounts. He took everything. His note said he’s sorry, but he won’t be coming back. Claire, what am I going to do? Help me.”
There was a part of me that felt empathetic. I knew the pain of a parent leaving and I knew how much that pain would be compounded for Sydney if it meant she’d lose not only her dad, but also everything else.
But there was another part of me, a part that didn’t usually come to the surface that felt angry—not with Sydney’s father—but with Sydney. In the last two hours my whole world had shattered and here was my best friend, not offering comfort, but demanding I comfort her instead.
Still, Sydney’s pain was legitimate. This wasn’t a trivial crisis. Losing her dad would change her whole life. I couldn’t imagine going through that and I wished I could say or do something to make it better.
She cried on my shoulder and I patted her back because that was my role in this. That was always my role. I was the friend who helped Sydney pass art, the daughter who kept her dad from being embarrassed in front of the people he needed validation from the most, the girlfriend who gave her heart completely and naively assumed it was in good hands.
I gave and others took.
I couldn’t be that person right now, no matter how much my best friend needed me.
“Sydney,” I said, pushing back. “I’m so sorry. I really am. But you need to go.”
Sydney blinked.
I held out a hand for Sydney so she could stand too, but she just looked back at me, confused. “I’m sorry Syd, I really wish I could comfort you right now. I know you must feel so betrayed, but I have nothing left to give today.”
“But Claire,” she said with wide bloodshot eyes. “I need you.”
I crossed my arms and looked at the ground trying not to meet her gaze.
Confused and wounded, Sydney dried her tears, stood and exited my room.
She walked down the hall and I followed her to the apartment door.
“Call me tomorrow, okay?” I said, turning the deadbolt and opening the door.
She didn’t say she would. She didn’t nod. She didn’t even turn to acknowledge that I’d said something. She just walked off toward the elevator.
My room was as dark and as silent as a tomb. Dad hadn’t made a sound in hours. I knew I should check on him, but instead I stared out the window.
New York stretched before me in an endless sea of light and motion.
So many people.
Millions.
And somehow among the crowds I’d fallen for the one person who would ruin everything.
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