open for me, and I use my crutches to maneuver into the hallway. The doctor said I should only need to use them for a day or two, and then just a thick dressing and taking it easy should be sufficient for my foot to heal. Luckily, the glass didn’t cause any permanent damage. It’s just sore if I put my weight on it.
I balance, using my crutch for support as I take in the space. It’s exactly the same as when I left. Except now, Bruce has a new expensive looking shiny pot and is sitting proudly on the hall table with Beryl. She even looks pleased to see him. Her leaves are unfurled, open, and bursting with excitement.
They’re like two lovers, reunited after time apart. I tilt my head to one side and stare at them.
“Here.” Reed closes the door and steps around me, sinking to his knees in front of me.
I look down and smile. “You hate these. You could have said they got lost when Suze moved my stuff back.”
“I don’t hate them.” Reed’s brow furrows as he gently slides one pink fluffy slipper onto my injured foot and then takes my weight to help put the other on my good foot.
“You said they leave bits everywhere.”
“I missed having your bits everywhere.” He rises to his feet, his eyes holding mine.
I stare back at him, my stomach sinking. The hospital kept us busy. Nurse Michael was true to his word and really was only a minute. I had the glass removed from my foot and wrapped in a bandage, and they gave me clean dressings to use for the next couple of days. They wanted to check Reed’s shoulder at the same time, but he refused to leave my side. When he finally agreed, I went with him. Luckily, he didn’t do any permanent damage either. He has soft tissue bruising and was given some strong painkillers. But apart from that, he’s good.
Now it’s the two of us again. And all the reasons I had for staying away, all my guilt, the hopelessness… it’s all flooding back.
Nothing has changed.
I still let him down.
He still said he needed a fresh start.
“It was never going to last forever, Angel.”
“I know I agreed to come back here, but after everything, are you sure you want me here? I mean, what are we even doing?”
“Harls.” He reaches out and cups my face between his large hands, his thumbs stroking my cheeks. “This is where you belong. Why would you even question that?”
“Because…” My chest burns as I look into his eyes. I’m unable to look anywhere else. Not that I’d want to. When Reed looks at me like this, nothing else exists.
“Because?” he coaxes.
“Because Maria heard you tell Griffin and Stuart that it can’t ever be allowed to happen. That you’d rather die.” I gulp in air as Reed’s pupils dilate, pushing the golden flecks in them wide. “The idea of that video getting out made you say that. You—”
“You think that’s what I was talking about?” His expression folds into one of shock and concern, his thumbs pausing their gentle path over my skin. “I said that about you. The idea of someone using you. Hurting you. Trying to blackmail you. Anyone doing anything that makes your eyes look like they do now. Like you’ve been told you just saw your last sunrise… Harley, I would rather die than allow that to happen to you again.”
“Oh.” My heart beats out a low, melodic chant in my chest. “But at Suze’s, you said you had to let go, have a fresh start. That nothing lasts forever.”
Reed’s eyes shutter closed, and he rests his forehead against mine. “I did say that. You’re right.” His voice is low and weary, exhaustion rolling off him in waves. “And I should have explained what I meant.”
I stand numb, unable to say anything else. Is this the part where we sit and have a big talk? Where we amicably part ways? But why would he insist I come back here after the hospital? Why would he kiss me in the back of the ambulance like he had finally found me after a lifetime of searching?
“They can’t blackmail you anymore. We can be together. You don’t need to worry about it anymore.” He screws his face up, his body tensing. “It’s over.”
“No.” Tears threaten my eyes as he opens his and they burn into mine. “They could still tell people. They could still leak the video. Even if it’s safe with the police, it could all still come out.”
My chest tightens, images racing through my head. Reed’s video on the internet. Him seeing it. Everyone that he loves seeing it. Him never being able to leave it behind, always wondering when he meets someone, or walks down the street, if everyone he meets has seen him at his most vulnerable. Seen a part of his life that he doesn’t remember all the details of himself.
How do you even begin to deal with something like that?
“I don’t care,” he breathes out slowly, his entire body loosening as though saying the words alone is enough to make it all better.
“I don’t care, Harls,” he says again, lifting his lips to my forehead and pressing a kiss to my skin. “Come. There’s something you need to see.”
He helps me over to the sofa, lowering me down onto it, despite the fact it must make his shoulder throb painfully. He sits next to me and flicks the TV on.
“You want to watch TV?” My mouth drops open as I turn to him. “I don’t understand, I don’t—”
“Just watch.” He rests his hand on my thigh, his eyes on the screen. “You wanted to know what I meant? It’s easier if I show you.”
I turn back to the giant wall-hung flat screen as Reed brings up a recording and the intro music for Tom Coulter’s evening news and chat show comes on.
I sit mesmerized as Tom comes into view, sitting on a deep blue sofa, his hands clasped between his knees as he leans forward. His show that airs in the evening is made up of political and current affairs topics. There is no live studio audience. It’s intimate and why I love his show. It’s like watching a chat between friends.
“This is what you were filming when I came to look for you.” I glance at Reed, and his lips lift into a calm smile.
“Yes. It is.”
I turn back to the screen as Tom begins.
“I have a special guest with me tonight. He’s an old friend of mine. Well, I’m the old part in that sentence.” He chuckles, his silver hair gleaming as the camera zooms out, showing the rest of the set and the other blue sofa.
Even though I know he’s going to be there, I still emit a small gasp as Reed’s broad frame comes into view. His waves are perfectly swept back from his face, showing his striking eyes. And his perfect teeth are on show as he smiles at Tom and reaches over to shake his hand.
“That’s your real smile,” I whisper to Reed out of the side of my mouth, my eyes glued to the easy familiarity he has on screen with Tom.
Reed doesn’t say anything, but his fingers flex against my thigh and squeeze gently.
“Thanks for having me, Tom,” TV Reed replies.
“Now, we had this interview planned from the moment you won the New York City Mayoral vote. Congratulations, by the way.” Tom laughs and Reed joins him.
“But…” Tom’s smile fades. “The content of what we planned to discuss today has changed somewhat, hasn’t it?” He looks to Reed, who runs a hand over his jaw, his eyes looking skyward.
“Yes. I would say that’s an accurate description.” Reed chuckles softly, leaning his elbows forward over his knees and opening his palms up between them. “This was going to be about my plans for the city. And it still is. But first, I need to share with everybody why I’m so grateful that you put your faith and trust in me. I think we become the people we are based largely on our experiences and our influences. And a lot of passions are created that way. Some people are born with a talent, but not many. Most of us don’t discover our talent, our passion, and what drives us until it shows itself to us in our life. Some of us wait a long time for it. Some of us search. Some of us sit back and hope that it finds us. And sometimes it’s born out of good experiences. And sometimes it’s not.”
“That’s really interesting. I love how you said that. It’s different for everyone. And it’s not always an easy road to it. And you’re going to share with us what gave birth to your passion today, aren’t you?” Tom leans back into the other sofa, his eyes softening at the corners as he waits for Reed to continue.
“I am.” Reed nods, rolling his lips and dropping his head to his chest before looking back at Tom.
“Reed…” My eyes stay fixed on the screen, at TV Reed’s brow, and the way it’s drawn together so tightly that bile rises in my throat.
“Just watch, Angel.” He squeezes my thigh again.
I place my hand over his and he turns it so our fingers can wrap together, gripping on to each other like two people stranded in the cold. Knowing that your best chance of survival is to stay together. That your lives depend so heavily on the other’s survival.
“My passion, and the reason I wanted to be mayor, was to help people. I want to instill trust and hope in people. To lead with honesty and integrity. And I want justice for people who are wronged by others. Truth is important to me. Whenever I’ve been asked a question, I’ve answered it honestly.” He shakes his head, pausing, as Tom waits patiently.
“But I haven’t been completely truthful in why those things mean a lot to me, just that they do. And recently, I’ve come to realize that my reasons for not being completely truthful weren’t serving me anymore. In fact, they were hurting people. People I care a lot about. And I think sharing those reasons now is right. It feels right.”
Reed’s fingers stroke against mine, reminding me that he is here, right beside me. Keeping me warm. Sharing his body heat. Protecting me from what’s coming.
“When I was twenty-one, I was sexually assaulted. I was drugged by a woman and taken to a hotel, which I have little recollection of. She did things that I don’t remember. She had sex with me without my consent. I reported it. But she was never found. There was no evidence.”
I can’t contain the gasp that falls from my lips, hearing it laid out like that, for the world to hear.
“I see,” Tom says, leaning forward and mirroring Reed’s posture. “And this is something you feel led to you wanting to help others to get justice?”
“Yes,” Reed answers openly. “It’s why some of my main policies are based around improving personal safety and investing in the city’s justice system. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at crime rates. I want cases to be stronger, to have the resources to investigate and go to trial. I want people to feel supported and never be reluctant about coming forward to report a crime. Crimes of all natures. But especially sexually motivated ones. For a long time, I felt like a part of me had been stolen that night. A part I never got back. And I made my peace with it. I thought that night was in the past. And I was happy to leave it there. But recently I’ve come to realize that I can do something better with it. It made me want to do better. Be better. It gave me the drive to want to run for mayor so that I can make changes that will benefit people’s lives. But that’s no longer enough.”
“You’ve got plans for something, using your experience to guide you?” Tom asks.
“I do. I want to invest time in community building. I want more places people can go to for help without fear of being judged. Without feeling ostracized for the things that have happened to them, for their past. I want people to be supported. To feel supported. That was a dark time in my life, and without my family and friends, I might not have found my way out. I want to spread that message. You are in control of your own life. And there is always support there when you need it. For everyone, but especially men. We don’t always forge relationships so easily. We can hide our feelings until they consume us. But we need society to be promoting positive attitudes to mental well-being and health. It’s something Harry Ellston, the new commissioner for education, and I have been discussing. We want to bring it into schools. We have physical education and sports, and we’ve come some way into the mental side of a healthy mindset. But we feel there is so much potential for more.”
The camera pans back as Reed and Tom continue to talk about the plans in more detail. His admission of his assault is already fading into the background as they discuss schools and what might be trialed for different age groups.
I turn to Reed, silent tears running down my cheeks. He looks back at me, his eyes glassy and wet.
“It’ll help people, Harls. That’s partly why I did it.”
“Partly?” My voice betrays me, cracking at the end.
“Mostly I did it for you. So you never had to worry about it again. I’m not afraid of people knowing. I’m not even afraid of them seeing that video. Do you know what I am afraid of? What scares the shit out of me?”
“What?” I whisper.
“The helplessness I feel when I see you cry.” He reaches up and swipes my tears away with his thumb. “Feeling helpless. Being helpless. This was me taking back control. I never want you to cry because of my past. It can’t hurt me anymore. As long as it doesn’t hurt you, then it can’t hurt me.”
“Reed,” I sob, falling into his arms, making sure to bury my head into his good shoulder, and not the one that’s bandaged up.
“No one in this world can hurt us again like this. As long as we stay together. You should have come to me, Angel. We can face anything together. But you have to talk to me about it.”
His arms are warm around me, encasing me in a cocoon of hope. He’s shared it with the world. He’s changed it with one decision. Transformed it so it’s no longer a dark poison to be used as a weapon, but a seed from which new beginnings can grow. If he wasn’t about to be mayor, maybe he wouldn’t have done it. Maybe he would have kept living happily like he was. Because I truly believe he was happy. He never let it define who he was. But now he has the tools and position to use it in a different way.
He’s chosen his next step.
One I never anticipated.
“I thought I was doing the right thing. You didn’t want your past held against you. But I should never have assumed I knew how you felt. I should never have tried to make that decision for you. I thought I was helping. I knew you would do anything to protect me, and I wanted to do the same.” I sniff into his neck, inhaling his scent I’ve found so intoxicating right from the beginning.
Adventure and home.
“I understand. And I would have done whatever I could if it was the other way around. You didn’t make a mistake, Harls. You thought you didn’t have a choice.” His voice falters. “I never want you to feel you don’t have a choice.”
I murmur into his neck. Telling him how strong he is, how he’s exactly what the city needs, what the people need, what I need. I hold him close, stroking the hair at the nape of his neck as I scatter kisses all over his skin and over his throat as it vibrates with his words.
“It’s the past. All I care about now is the present and the future.” He places his hands on my shoulders and guides me backward, so our faces are together, nose to nose. “Nothing in this world is worse to me than seeing you cry. Remember that.”
I suck in a deep breath, tears pricking at my eyes again. But I refuse to let any more fall. He’s right. It’s time to look forward, not back.
“I love you,” I whisper against his lips.
His fingers freeze on my shoulders and the golden flecks in his eyes flash brighter than ever before as he looks at me with an intensity that stills every movement in my body until all that’s left is the beating of my heart. A beating matched in his own and felt against my skin like the bass of the most beautiful song.
“I love you too, Harls. I’ve loved you for a long time.”
We fall silent for a few minutes, just content to listen to each other’s breathing and feel each other’s hearts beating.
“I was worried I was going to lose you forever. You and your pink fluff and deformed cat pajamas.”
“You hate those pajamas.”
“I fucking love those pajamas.” A deep chuckle rumbles in his chest.
I laugh as Reed places his hands on my cheeks. “And the motivational plant talks, and your beaver mug.”
“It’s a sloth, not a beaver.”
Reed arches an eyebrow at me with a smirk.
“I would have missed your bad jokes.” I roll my eyes.
“I wouldn’t have made any without you.” He falls serious again.
I stroke the back of his head, running my fingers through his hair. “Now what?”
He sighs contentedly, an easy smile spreading over his face. “Now we go to bed, Angel. It’s been too many nights without you. I need you.”
“I need you too.”