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She said, “I know your life’s been hard, but I can’t stay down anymore so you can feel better. You can’t keep pointing out my failings and trapping me with things friends do for each other.”
” ‘Things friends do for each other’? You have friends who would do what I’ve done? You have friends besides me?”
Her voice rose this time. “Why would you say that?”
“You’re still having problems with the truth?”
“I’m not always wrong … and even if I am, I have the right. It’s time for people to stop trying to control me.”
“Now you’re talking about your mother.”
“I’m talking about you.” Aliss’s lip curled with anger. “You need to see yourself and stop looking so much at me.”
“You’re worse than ungrateful.”
Aliss let the glass go as she climbed over the side of the chair and ran to the far side of the room. “We were young when we started, letting things happen like a reflex or something, until we got stuck. We should’ve stayed friends. I did love you, even when you were like this. I feel it now — but as a friend.”
Hugh didn’t look back at her as he stood up, angling an ear in her direction. “You’ve spent all this time not knowing who you were, and now you want to throw me away like everything I did for you means absolutely nothing.”
“No … please don’t do that. Listen to me. Neither of us learned how to talk to people, but we don’t have to be like this. We can be different.” She stared at his back and searched for words he might hear.
He turned toward her, his face colder than she remembered having seen. “Yes, that’s it, Aliss. Your home turned you into an automaton who was sometimes a nice girl … who sometimes had good ideas, and sometimes cared about more than herself or that woman.” He shot air through his teeth, his eyes taking her in from top to bottom as she hung her head and breathed too fast. “From what you say, it seems I’m like my father. But that doesn’t sound right …” he searched some distant point as if to consider facts before going on, “… he never tried to help anyone do anything. I set you up here so you could thrive. Waited for you in shadows … working to keep you safe … coming back after watching you walk out laughing with that asshole too many times, like you didn’t have a care in the world. Even after seeing you go upstairs with him. Day after day I stood across that street until my legs ached … until they were strong enough to never ache again. Then it was just my heart. But that doesn’t matter does it?”
Aliss hadn’t been able to hold back her tears. Clinging tight to some semblance of control, she said, “I did thrive.”
Hugh was at the door, opening it.
“That’s what you said you wanted for me.” She hoped he would be still a moment and listen. “You did that. Things were weird … because of my stupid memory, and I didn’t always make the right choices … but I thrived.” He was stopped at the door, looking into the hall with his hand on the knob. “I tried to be good, but I tried to be good to myself, too. That made life not hurt so much anymore. I was almost happy here. You made that happen.”
He waited for her to finish, then left, closing the door behind him.
Aliss wasn’t prepared to feel so relieved that he was gone, or for the emptiness and added confusion left in his wake. She sat on the sofa and waited for Miller.