He is the one who pushed Marc to the ground…
But he did that for me. And no one has ever done anything like that for me before.
We exit the hotel without a word said to each other and as we stomp out into the dark night, I take a deep breath, telling myself not to cry. This situation is not worth my tears. We’ll clear this up. He’s not angry with me. He’s angry with Marc for talking so much shit about me.
By the time we’re both in the car I’m shaking, I’m so nervous. Tristan still hasn’t said anything. He hasn’t even looked my way, started the car, nothing. He just sits in the driver’s seat, staring at the steering wheel, his chest rising and falling rapidly the only indication that he’s actually alive.
“McIntosh,” he finally says, slowly turning his head so he’s looking right at me. “Your last name is McIntosh?”
I stare at him, my mouth dry as I scramble for the right words to say. I should’ve told him sooner but it wasn’t important. Not to me, in any case. Alex McIntosh is the old me. I’m not that girl anymore. “It used to be.”
His mouth screws up into this disgusted little pout, like he just ate something particularly foul. “Used to be? What the fuck does that even mean, Alexandria?
I flinch when he yells, the sound extra loud in the small confines of his car. But he’s still not making a move to leave so I guess we’re having this conversation here.
“I changed my last name. My parents were arrested near the end of my senior year of high school on embezzlement charges. They ran their own investment company and they were charged with stealing millions from their clients. They handled a lot of big accounts involving huge money, and they were really good at it too. Until, I guess, my father got way too greedy and started stealing it,” I explain, my voice, my heart bitter. I’m still not over what they did. I don’t think I ever will be. “Then Mom joined in on the mix and the both of them eventually got caught.”
“So they’re in prison,” he says, his voice flat, emotionless as he stares off into space, his gaze on the windshield.
“Yes,” I admit softly. I wish he would look at me. So he could see how sincere I am. “After our family name got dragged through the courts and the media, once I realized that we lost everything and there was no turning back, I changed my name and moved away. I wanted a new life, a new start. And I’d never get it there. Everyone knew my family’s shame, my shame.”
He looks at me. “Including Marc.”
I nod. “Including Marc.”
Tristan blows out a frustrated breath. There’s no other way to describe it. I can feel his anger, his irritation. And there’s nothing I can do to fix this. “It fucking killed me that he knew those details about you, that he said them so casually, like they were no big deal, while I’m dying to find out anything and everything about you. You never tell me shit.”
I say nothing because he’s right. I bend my head and study my shaking hands, which are clutched together and resting in my lap.
“Just enough. You always tell me just enough to string me along but is it really? Just enough?” I lift my head when I feel him staring at me, our gazes locking. “I don’t give a shit if you’re rich or poor, Alexandria.”
“I know.” I bite my lower lip so I don’t break apart. “I’ve kept this in for so long, I didn’t know how to say it out loud. Sometimes I forgot it ever happened. Once I met Kelli, and you and Shep and Jade and…everyone else, you all helped me forget. For once, I have real friends, a real life. I have a job and school and people who actually care about me. I have a purpose, and I never felt like I had one of those before.”
Does he understand? Does he grasp what he’s done for me? What they’ve all done for me? I would still be that shell of a person, lonely and sad and moving through life without them. Instead I’m lucky enough to have them. And for the first time ever, I’m actually living. I need them.
But I need Tristan more.
“Jesus,” he breathes, punching his steering wheel, making me jump. I watch as he punches it again, his fingers curled into a fist, the knuckles reddened. “Is your father’s name Douglas McIntosh?”
My body freezes. How does he know? “Y-yes.”
He turns in his seat so he’s facing me, allowing me to see the horror and sadness etched into his familiar, handsome features. “Your dad had an affair with my mom. Stole all her money and she tried to kill herself over it.”
I gape at him. “What?” His words aren’t computing. I know my parents stole money. I know they took people’s life savings and spent it all, leaving their victims left with nothing. They devastated and destroyed futures. They took with zero intentions of ever giving back.
Their stories, though awful, never touched me on a personal level. I felt bad but there was nothing I could do for them. At the time, I could only concentrate on what my parents’ actions did to me. How it ruined my life. I wasn’t thinking of anyone else. Just myself.
“Your father had an affair with my mom,” he says slowly. “She tried to commit suicide after he left her and took all of her money with him. Took a bunch of pills but she survived.”
I’m horrified. Could it be true? Did my father really do that?
“Thank goodness she’s still alive,” I automatically say, reaching for him but he jerks his arm away from me before I can grab hold. I lean back in my seat, hurt that he won’t let me touch him when that’s all I want to do right now. He grounds me. Makes me feel whole.
I can see him drift away from me, little by little.
“Like you care,” he mutters, turning so he can focus on the steering wheel once again. “She admitted to me later she’d saved up that money on her own so she could leave my dad. They weren’t getting along. Their marriage has been essentially loveless for years. She wanted to escape but your father took everything and ruined her plans. Almost damn near ruined her life.”
My heart feels like it’s cracking in two. I can’t explain my father’s actions. I can’t excuse what he did either. But is his stealing my fault? His affair with Tristan’s mom, did I make that happen? No. And Tristan is looking at me like I did. Like this is all on me. “I’m so sorry,” I whisper, not knowing what else to say.
No response. I watch him, study his strong, familiar profile. His jaw is like granite, a muscle working there and I know he’s clenching and unclenching his jaw. He’s so tense. And somehow he believes this is my fault.
I don’t know how to convince him otherwise.
“I’m not the one who stole your mother’s money,” I start and he turns on me, his expression hostile, his eyes blazing with anger.
“Is that how you justify it? That you weren’t the one who took it? Did my mom’s money help pay for anything you’ve got on tonight? Your Chanel purse that probably costs five thousand dollars? Those expensive ass shoes?” He’s yelling and I’m cowering in my seat, taking the brunt of his anger. “My parents almost got a divorce over that shit. Things still aren’t right between them. It fucking tore my family apart.”
“It tore my family apart, too,” I whisper, my throat scratchy and raw.