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“Who?” Alex demands, but he's interrupted by a knock on the door.
I open it to find William on the other side. “Your timing is perfect.”
He winces when he sees my face. “It looks even worse in person. What the hell happened?”
“This,” I say, circling my face with a finger, “happened when I was assaulted last night.”
“Assaulted? By who?” William asks in alarm.
“Me apparently!!” Alex rages, raising his arms up in the air as he paces the apartment. “Or at least that’s the rumor flying about the campus isn’t it?”
William looks away. “It’s what I've heard," he acknowledges. “I freaked out when you guys didn’t show up today. I thought maybe something bad happened with the baby. I tried to track down Olivia, but she wasn’t in either and then I feared something terrible took place last night.
I started to call Cat and tried to leave a message, but then Liam gets a hold of me…”
“Liam?!” I say, panicked.
“Yeah, he wanted to know where you were and what I knew? I told him I didn’t know where you were and that I hadn’t heard anything, but that’s when he informed me that you and Alex got into a fight last night when you found out about him stripping at some Ladies Club. I told him there was no way that was true, and then he showed me pics of Alex pole dancing on stage.” William looks accusingly at Alex, “When the hell did you start stripping?”
“I don’t!" Alex ardently denies. "I just dance for the club where Aiden use to work.” Alex clarifies, in a misguided attempt to reassure William. William, however, becomes suddenly enraged. He shoves Alex, hard. “What?! Have you lost your effing mind! What did you hope to prove?! Were you trying to get yourself killed?!”
“Whoa! Whoa, now,” I interject, feeling my pressure rising. I pull William aside. He is practically panting with anger. I have never seen this side of him. Alex, on the other hand, just stands there quietly, absorbing the full force of William's emotions.
“You’re right,” Alex replies, his expression sorrowful. “I was wrong. I realize now that it was stupid, but I just wanted whoever killed Aiden to pay. I wanted to see them brought to justice. I thought maybe…”
“You could what? Lure them out? Get yourself killed in the process? Do you have any idea what that would have done to ME?!”
“I honestly wasn’t thinking about you. I was only thinking about Aiden,” Alex states in annoyance, as William has a way of making everything about him, but I know, in this case, that’s not what William intends.
“He means, did you ever stop to consider, that if something did happen to you, what that would do to those that love you?” I say to Alex, grateful that William is taking the time while standing beside me to try and calm down.
“I started this plan when you shut me out after Aiden’s death. I didn't believe I had anyone left who would care,” Alex admits. “And a year later when all that changed, I was already committed to the idea, so there would have been no talking me out of it.”
William sits down on the sofa. Alex’s words taking the fight completely out of him.
“I’m sorry, Alex. I’m so sorry I couldn’t be there to help you when you needed me most. I just… I just couldn’t. When Aiden died, so did I or at least I wanted to, in the worst way. Anything to stop the pain.”
Alex sits next to him. “You have no need to apologize. It was hard, and yes, although I really could have used my best friend, I certainly understand why you couldn’t be there for me. My anger about the entire situation, his senseless violent death, my parents' utter disregard, your total retreat, it fueled me to take drastic measures, but Cat’s changed all that. I am not going back to the club. I won’t ever go back there again. I swear to you.”
William looks up at Alex, tears running down his face. My heart bleeds for them both. Alex pulls his sleeve over his palm and gently wipes off William’s face. “You’re my brother. You’re my family. Nothing will ever change that.”
William throws his arms around Alex and Alex just holds him, as all pain of these last few years is unleashed. When the emotions ebb William slowly pulls away. “Thank you.”
Alex smiles at him. “What are friends for?”
I sigh, grateful that at least something good has come out of this fiasco.
“I’m sorry we haven’t talked about this long before now,” William confides.
Alex shrugs. “We didn’t because we couldn’t. But what are we going to do about this rumor? Cat’s got to get back to school and there’s no hiding her face.”
“Honestly, I don’t think there is anything you can do,” William responds sadly. “People are going to believe what they want to believe. You’re not going to change that.”
“I’m not going to stand by and let them get away with it!” I declare. “Especially when I’m 100% certain that it was Jenny who started it.”
“What makes you think that?” William asks, adding, “Besides her abiding hatred of you, of course.”
I grimace at William. “It was Jenny’s idea to go to the club where Alex dances. She was there that night and she is currently Liam’s roommate. That’s how Liam got the pictures of Alex pole dancing.”