“Holly? Holly? Are you still there?”
“Yes, Doug! Sorry I was just… Simon Green. Are you sure?”
“That’s the name I kept getting. He works for the same airline as you, doesn’t he?”
I flex my hands on the steering wheel, loosening the painful grip I have on it.
“Yes, he’s a pilot. Not just that though, we used to date.”
“Ah. Well, that could explain it then. Jealous with a grudge? Maybe he wanted to scare you off LA, or discredit Jay. I’ve heard of stranger motives, let me tell you.”
I know Simon was angry after we broke up. Another pilot told management about him showing the videos of us around. They hauled him into the head office over it. He somehow got off with just a warning, but he could have lost his career over it. I never thought he would do something like this, though.
My mind flashes back to Matt telling me of Simon’s reaction to the photos of me and Jay in Celeb Central, then seeing him in that bar. Simon was so vile to me, and Jay had him up against the wall by his neck in front of lots of our colleagues. That would have pissed Simon off. Knowing that he hired someone to follow me. Break into Jay’s house, and… Oh God. Acid rises from my stomach.
I swallow and find my voice. “Thank you so much, Doug. You’ve helped so much. It’s a relief to know who was behind it.”
“Holly, after what you did for me, anything I can do for you, you only have to ask.”
Doug stays silent for a moment, as though he wants to say something else.
“Doug? What is it?”
“Holly, I hope I’m not out of line here but, well, I saw Jay the other day. He looked terrible. He said you guys weren’t…” Doug pauses as though thinking of the right words. “He said you’d gone back to England. It’s not because of this break-in, is it? Now you know it was just your ex being a jerk…” Doug trails off.
I sigh before answering him.
“It’s complicated. It would never work between us, Doug. I just hope he finds true happiness soon.”
“Hey, only you know in your heart what the right path is, Holly. If this last couple of weeks has taught me anything, it’s that you should never ignore your heart.”
I smile sadly. My heart will always belong to Jay but letting him go was the most loving thing I could do.
“Thanks again, Doug. I appreciate it.”
“No problem, Holly. Hey, when you’re next back in LA, give me a call. Me and Anya would love to have you over for dinner.”
“Oh, in the new house? I look forward to it,” I say, knowing full well I have no intention of going anywhere near LA if I can help it.
“Great, that’s settled then. Take care, Holly.”
I hit end call and stare out at the road ahead. The earlier acid rising from my stomach threatens to come back. Simon paid for the break-in and we thought nothing was taken. However, I know that’s not true. Nothing may have been taken from the house, but the photo they sent me of Jay and Robyn must have been a copy. The fact it only had my name on it means that someone, most likely Ryan Baker, had to have been back to the house to put it in the mailbox. I shudder at the thought of him being so near to the house again.
To think that Simon was behind all of this. I clench my teeth. That selfish, cheating bastard! He couldn’t bear to see me happy, so he tried to find something, anything, to ruin it. Only he hit the jackpot. I swallow back the horrible taste that’s in my mouth. He found out all about Robyn. I bet he couldn’t believe his luck. Maybe I should thank him I found out now. Otherwise, I would have carried on unaware, continuing Jay’s suffering, preventing him from moving on.
“This is all such shit!” I shout. A man in a car coming up in the lane beside me gives me a funny look. There’s no way he can hear me, but I must look odd shouting to myself in the car. I need to concentrate on driving back. I can fly to Hong Kong tomorrow and drink so much I’ll forget about it for a while. Bliss.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Hong Kong, where the local time is three o’clock in the afternoon. Please remain seated with your seat belt fastened until the aircraft comes to a complete stop and the captain has turned off the seat belt sign. Thank you for choosing Atlantic Airways.’
I tune out as the announcement is repeated in Mandarin. Three o’clock, so by the time we disembark and get through the airport and to the hotel, it’s going to be five o’clock at the earliest. The crew have already decided we’d meet at the hotel bar for some food, then head straight out for drinks after. There will be five of us and three pilots. The rest of the crew are Chinese and live in Hong Kong, so they’ll go home now, and the new crew will join us for the Sydney sector in two days.
I stand at my door as the passengers leave the aircraft, smiling and dipping my head as I say goodbye and thank you. I can’t wait to get to my hotel room and take a hot shower before going out. Having a few drinks is just what I need right now. I need to be numbed by cocktails. Maybe then I won’t feel this pain, the never-ending sickness in my stomach and ache in my chest.
I doze on the bus to the hotel and am grateful to make it into my room. I wheel my bag in and it falls straight over, narrowly missing my foot.
“Ugh.” I flop back onto the bed. I have to get in the shower now or I risk falling asleep right here and missing the entire evening. I drag myself back up to a seated position and flick the TV on. I’ll put something on in the background while I get ready.
I hop through the channels until an American one playing commercials comes on. I take my uniform off as they discuss a ‘revolutionary new weight loss drug.’ I unzip my skirt, which has gaped at the waist since I came back from LA. Try breaking up with the love of your life. That should help.
I’m heading into the bathroom when a familiar voice makes the hairs on my neck stand on end. I turn around and there on the TV is Jay. I stare at the screen showing a rerun of his show Steel Force. He’s dressed in his FBI stab vest, his gun drawn, just about to bust down a door. He’s so goddamned sexy. I stand mesmerized as he fights with the perpetrator before overpowering him and pushing him to the floor, the muscles in his arms straining underneath his shirt.
This is a bad idea. I force my eyes away and flip to another channel. I can’t sit here and watch him. I can’t look at what I’m missing, what I had once, or thought I had. It’s just too raw still. I groan as I drag my hands down my face. I’m going to need a hell of a lot of cocktails tonight.
Three hours and four cocktails later, I’m dancing to the music in a bar the crew always comes to. The bar owner knows all the airline crew come here; we must keep him in business as there’s crew here every day of the year. He even lets us write our names on the peeling painted walls. Somewhere near the back there’s a heart with Holly, Rach & Matt in it from a trip we all did together a couple of years ago.
“Holly, you want another drink?” our captain, Pete, asks me.
“Yes, please!” I call over the music. “It’s my round though.”
We make our way to the bar.
“Eight shots of tequila please!” I call, slapping some money down on the counter.
The bar man smiles at me and starts pouring our drinks.
“Tequila? Looking for a wild night are you, Holly?” Pete says with a smile as he subtly looks me up and down, checking me out in my skin-tight black dress and heels.
“Just looking to forget,” I say as I pick up half the drinks. Pete grabs the rest, and we take them back over to the rest of the team.
“Yay! Shots!” One girl shouts when she sees us coming.
“Everyone on the count of three!” I say. “One, two, three!”
We all down our shots and I wince as the burn spreads down my throat.
“Whoa, that’s some strong forgetting you need to do, Holly,” Pete says, smiling at me as he finishes his shot.
He’s handsome, in his late forties, with salt-and-pepper hair and a friendly smile. He was telling me on the flight out about how he’s just had his divorce finalized. Maybe under different circumstances I would be flattered by his attention, but there’s a sinking feeling in my gut that’s growing. I can never have another man touch me again and not wish that it were Jay. He’s ruined me forever.
My phone vibrates with a text.
Matt: Hey, Holls, we’ve just finished dinner, we’re heading to the bar now. See you soon!
I smile. Matt and Stefan are here on their holiday together and wanted to come and have a drink together tonight. They’re on some long day trip tomorrow so they won’t get a chance to meet up with me otherwise. I’m nervous about seeing Stefan again, if I’m honest. That’s why I’ve moved on to shots. The last time I saw him was in LA, when I left Jay. That he’s happy to meet up with me tonight must be a good sign. Maybe he’s not forgiven me for hurting Jay yet, but he’s not cutting me off completely, for Matt’s sake, anyway.
One girl, a pretty brunette called Lauren from the crew, grabs my hands and dances. I hold her hands and lift them up in the air as we sway our hips in time to the music. We dance together for a couple of songs, laughing and twirling each other round. I sense Pete’s eyes on both of us. The song changes and I give her a hug as we have a rest.
“Hey, guys, it’s my round!” she calls. “Holly, what you having?”
I look at her to answer but can see over her shoulder that Matt and Stefan have just walked in.
“Not for me this time. Thank you, though. I’m just going to go say hi to some friends I’ve seen.”
“I’ll give you a hand with the drinks,” Pete says to her.
“Okay.” Lauren grins at him. “See you in a bit, Holly.”
I smile as Lauren and Pete head off to the bar together, his eyes checking out her bum as he walks behind.
“Hey!” I call, waving to Matt so he can spot me.
I head toward him and Stefan and when we meet Matt pulls me into a hug. I wobble on my feet, my head rushing from all the drinks.
“Hey, babe. Look at you!” he says, eyeing me up and down. “Holls, you look hot as always, but seriously, we need to get some more food into you. I can get my hands around your waist.”
“Don’t exaggerate, Matt.” I kiss him on the cheek, missing the spot I was aiming for.
I step back and look over at Stefan who is watching me, his lips in a firm, straight line.
“Stefan, it’s good to see you,” I say, swallowing the lump in my throat.
“You too, Holly,” he says politely. “Doug told me it was Simon who paid that reporter. I’m sorry, Holly.”
“Yeah, total asshole,” Matt mutters. “You should report him to the police, Holly. You’ve got grounds to.”
“I’m just glad we know who was behind it now,” I murmur as I watch Stefan.
He may know that Simon was behind the break-in, but there’s no way he would know about the photograph. Judging from his face, he’s still mad at me, which is a good sign. If he knew about the photograph, then he would work out the real reason for me leaving Jay. He wouldn’t be angry with me if he knew I did what I had to do out of love for Jay.
“Let’s get a drink,” Matt says.
I get the impression Stefan is as relieved as me as we order a cocktail each.
“So, are you guys having a good holiday?” I ask once we’ve found a quieter table to sit at away from the bar.
“Aww, the best!” Matt gushes with delight. “Tell her, babe.” He nudges Stefan in the ribs.
Babe? This must be going well. I smile at them.
Stefan rolls his eyes good-naturedly and smiles at Matt.
“It’s been fantastic. We’ve done sightseeing, eaten out at incredible restaurants, done some fun day trips.” He glances at Matt. “Our hotel is amazing, Holly. The spa is incredible. We’re working our way through all the treatments on the menu!” He laughs.
I laugh too, happy that Stefan is talking to me like he used to, even if it’s only for a moment.
“The pool is better than Jay’s!” Matt says before catching my eye and stopping abruptly.
“It’s okay, Matt.” I squeeze his hand.
“How’s Jay doing, Stefan?” I ask, avoiding eye contact.
“He’s been better, Holly,” Stefan says, his mouth returning to its earlier firm, straight line.
My stomach knots at the thought of Jay hurting. “No one will ever come close to him for me,” I say, tears threatening my eyes.
“Then why did you run out on him like that, Holly?” Stefan snaps. He is still pissed.
“I can’t explain it.” I blink. “I had my reasons, Stefan. Good reasons. Please believe me. I never wanted to hurt him. I only want him to be happy.”
“He was happy, Holly. He was the happiest I’ve ever seen him.”
“Maybe he thought he was,” I whisper.
Stefan lets out a big breath, his shoulders sagging. “Holly, you’ve no idea, have you?”
I look at him.
“What do you mean?”
“You leaving the way you did. It hurt him.”
“I’m not the one for him, Stefan.”
“Holly, listen to me for a minute,” Stefan says. “You don’t know how Rob died, do you?”
Why is he talking about this?
“No, just that it was an accident of some sort, a terrible accident.” I look at him as he seems to choose his next words carefully.
“It was a car accident, Holly. Rob died in a car accident. Jay was in the passenger seat. He was the last one to see Rob alive.”
My hand flies to my forehead as I try to make sense of Stefan’s words through my alcohol-induced fog.
“So, when you took off and Jay got a call saying you’d been in a car accident, he almost lost it! I’ve never seen him like that before. It frightened the hell out of me.”
I look up at Stefan, unable to hide the tears in my eyes.
“Oh God, Jay,” I whisper as I put my hands to my mouth. My beautiful Jay. It was hard enough for him losing his love in a car accident all those years ago without me having one too. Instead of staying and helping him deal with all the memories he had resurfacing as a result, I ran away and left him.
“I didn’t know, Stefan.” My voice cracks as Matt puts his arm around me.
“Of course you didn’t, Holly. This isn’t your fault,” Matt says, pulling me into him.
“Holly, I know there’s a lot you don’t know, that Jay hasn’t shared with you yet. That was a painful part of his life. He doesn’t talk to anyone about it.” Stefan’s voice softens. “I just want you to understand why I’m finding it hard as his friend to see him going through this. He loves you, Holly. You leaving has hit him hard. He never wants to see his car again,” Stefan says.
“He loves that car,” I whisper.
“No, Holly. He loves you. That car just makes him think of you almost being killed. He’s given it to Cooper and Eric. Told them if they can fix it up, then they can sell it and keep the money to start up their garage business.”
Despite my tears, a smile forms on my face.
“He gave them his Ferrari? So they could start their business like they wanted?”
“Yeah, he’s an incredibly kind guy, Holly. But you already know that,” Stefan says sadly.
I reach across the table and put my hand on top of his.
“He is, Stefan, and he deserves to be truly happy. I know it doesn’t seem to make sense, but trust me, being with me will not make him happy in the long term, not really. Jay will realize that himself too one day.”
Stefan squeezes my hand as he looks back at me.
“You’re right, Holly. I don’t understand.” He sighs. “What I can see, though, is that you love him. And I can see Matt trusts you and knows the genuine reasons behind your decisions. And I trust Matt’s judgment.”
Matt smiles at Stefan.
“So, I guess I will just have to live with not understanding for now, and just be the best friend I can be to Jay.”
“Thank you,” I say. “He’s so lucky to have a friend like you.”
We all sit in companionable silence for a moment before Matt speaks.
“Fuck me! I need another drink. It’s like an episode of a drama show.”
“Me too.” I smile across at Stefan and raise an eyebrow.
“Go on then. After that, we better head off. We’ve got an early day tomorrow, haven’t we?” He smiles across at Matt, who glows under his attention.
“Right. I’ll get them. Back in a moment.” I rise off my chair and head to the bar. I’m tipsy. I better make this my last one too and then head back to the hotel.
I’m standing, waiting at the bar when hands slide over my hips and someone presses into me from behind. Warm beery breath on my cheek forces me to hold my breath.
“Looking rather sexy in this little dress, Holly.”
My blood boils.
“Simon, get your hands off me,” I snap as I turn and glare at him.
“Oh, come on, Holly,” he slurs, his breath hitting me in the face. “Don’t you want to fuck for old times’ sake?” He laughs as he sways toward me.
“What the hell did I ever see in you?” I spit.
“Aw, come on, darling.” His glassy eyes look me up and down.
“They should lock you up for what you did!” I glare at him.
Simon’s head rolls back and he laughs.
“What I did?” he says, prodding at his chest with his finger. “All I did was unearth a few hidden secrets that Mr. Perfect hadn’t shared with you. You should thank me. You didn’t belong there with him, Holly. Who are you kidding?” He smirks as he looks at me, before reaching forward and groping my bum with his hand and pulling me against him.
“Come on, Holly. Let me fuck you properly tonight. I can do it better than that pretty boy.”
Blood rushes to my ears as I shove Simon hard in the chest and he staggers backwards. People turn to look, but I don’t care.
“Don’t you dare talk about him!”
“Come on, Holly. You’re delusional. You were just some easy stand-in for his long-lost childhood love,” Simon sneers.
There’s a loud gasp from the people around us as Simon staggers backward before losing his balance and toppling over onto the floor. My hand throbs at my side. Giant painful throbs from where I just punched Simon square in the face.
“Holly!” Matt and Stefan run over.
“Are you okay?” Stefan asks, lifting my hand and calling to the bartender to pass some ice.
“That was awesome!” Matt squeals with delight, his eyes bright. “I have waited so long to see you stand up to that arsehole, Holly! This is the best day ever!”
I, however, can’t move. My feet are stuck to the same spot as I stare at Simon. He gets himself up and gives me one last dirty look, holding on to his nose, which is dripping with blood, as he staggers off and out of the bar.
“And good riddance!” Matt calls as the door shuts.
“I heard what he said, love,” says a man standing by the bar. “He deserved that, he did.”
“Me too,” pipes up another. “Good for you.”
I glance at Stefan, who’s studying my hand, holding some ice against my knuckles.
If people at the bar could hear what he said to me, then just how much did Stefan hear? What did Simon say? I’m racking my brain to think if he said anything that would give away just how much I know about Robyn. It’s all just a blur but I’m pretty sure, no, I’m certain, he never said anything about the photograph. I should be fine, I hope. It will all be fine.
The rest of the trip is great. Punching Simon seems to have been therapeutic for me. I’ve felt calmer and more positive since. I got my hand checked out the next day. Luckily, it was just bruised. The swelling wasn’t too bad, as Stefan had got the ice on it fast.
Lauren and I spend a fair bit of the trip together during the daytime, going to a hot yoga class in Sydney and shopping at the markets in Hong Kong. We meet the rest of the crew in the evenings for dinner and drinks. She has me giggling at the antics her and Pete get up to each night. It seems they both enjoy each other’s company a lot when the rest of us go back to our own rooms.
I am so glad to land back into Heathrow. Day nine away and I just can’t wait to get back into my own bed. I collect my suitcase from the baggage carousel and say goodbye to the rest of the crew, giving Lauren a hug before leaving her standing and talking to Pete. I smile. They’re probably wondering whether to swap numbers. I pull my bags through customs and head out through the automatic double doors into the arrivals terminal. A crowd of people are waiting to collect loved ones, their eager faces looking up each time a new person comes through the doors.
I keep walking and am almost at the end of the line of people waiting when I stop dead. Someone behind tuts, sidestepping me.
The air leaves my lungs as I stand frozen to the spot. I never expected to see him again. Not in the flesh. Not here in front of me, his chest rising and falling, his eyes fixed on me. My mouth falls open and I stare back into the intense blue eyes, which are burning right through me.