It shouldn’t feel worse than losing her parents, but it did, albeit in a different way. Certainly different than when Rodney kicked her to the curb, her heart already chastened and raw from being orphaned. She could excuse her need for Rodney, then desperate to have someone in her life to keep her afloat. She’d used him as he’d used her, and it was her pride that took the minor hit that time around.
The cab navigated the thronged streets of downtown and headed west toward the small suburb where her family home was located. Maybe that was the first indicator—Aedan never stayed over at her place. She’d inherited the two-story home when her parents had passed in that train accident in Europe, just after she’d graduated college, and while she rattled around in the commodious structure, she’d never thought to sell it. It was all she had of them aside from her memories, and thus far the commute wasn’t too onerous, if a long drive. In any event, Aedan had been there only once, when she needed to pack a bag for an unanticipated weekend trip with him. They’d saved time by sharing the car instead of meeting at the airport.
Reflecting on her alone state in an effort to avoid thinking about him, she supposed her antipathy for relationships was learned, modeled by her parents who’d shunned their own families. They’d married late in life, expressly against the wishes of their parents, some kind of Montague-Capulet scenario Bronwyn never really understood. She knew she lacked the extended family many other kids had while growing up, and the grandparents were now gone, the two cousins she knew of working overseas. Working in the very country Aedan was heading off to in the morning. Europe seemed to take people from her, but perhaps with an ocean between them she could manage to do what needed to be done.
Muted jazz emanated from the car’s speakers, and the driver’s head twitched along with the irregular beat. Her whole self felt irregular, and she slipped slightly out of focus as she recalled the remainder of the evening when she was faced with her actual place in Aedan’s life.
Rena and Craig had accompanied them back to his condo following the show. As his agents, the couple were all too willing to continue to celebrate the lucrative evening. Bronwyn would rather have celebrated it alone with Aedan, in a very different manner, but resigned herself to a much later night. Maybe that was her problem—she always took a backseat to other’s needs.
They’d sat around in his well-appointed living room, drinking wine and discussing future shows while she and Aedan exchanged glances full of promise. Or so she thought. Bronwyn had excused herself to the restroom, and on the way back to join them discovered for herself that old adage about eavesdroppers never hearing anything good about themselves.
She hadn’t meant to listen in, but when she heard her name mentioned, her footsteps had slowed and she hovered just out of sight in the hallway. She could hear the conversation now as if it were playing out right in front of her, set to the beat of the jazz the cabbie clearly enjoyed.
“She’s been nothing but good for you, Aedan.” Rena’s clear voice carried, and Bronwyn could detect nothing other than sincerity in her tone. It had warmed her heart, because she’d never been certain she had either Rena’s or Craig’s approval, and she wanted his friends to like her. Lord knew she had scarcely any of her own. As in one. That was her parents’ influence as well, isolationists. They were a close-knit unit of two, grudgingly opening up to include her on occasion. She’d worked so hard for their attention she lacked the energy to seek it out from others. No wonder she was stunted and couldn’t read people well in social situations. No wonder her world consisted of sterile, exact contracts. A person didn’t have to deal with emotions and people if they stuck to paperwork. Oh, how she wished she had stuck with that.
Aedan’s reply to Rena had shaken her a little, but he was such a practical man, and it had been her life’s mission to get him to express himself outside of his favorite medium of sculpting. She’d been tutoring herself in that regard, and thought it to be a pleasant learning experience together. Now she winced to think of just how expressive she’d been with the man she loved and believed loved her back. So she’d told herself his immediate answer felt like he was keeping their relationship private, as was his custom.
“Bronwyn’s been invaluable. Her ability and professionalism astounds me.”
Rena had laughed. “I’m sure, honey. But she’s also good for you personally.”
“She’s more than my lawyer,” Aedan admitted. “And that’s not a lifelong arrangement.” What? Was he thinking of a future without her? Without them?
Craig snorted. “You’re her biggest client and don’t ever think her firm hasn’t noticed all those billable hours. It doesn’t hurt that she worships the ground you walk on, buddy.”
“I didn’t ask for that from her, Craig. I don’t require it.” The ice in Aedan’s voice chilled her to the bone before her heart seized up. She’d made an involuntary noise and forced her feet to propel her forward to join them. It had taken all she had to smile faintly, and present herself like she hadn’t just heard herself being compartmentalized. Lawyer with benefits, short-term at that.
Rena and Craig looked uncomfortable, Rena shooting Craig a dark glance, but Aedan had no visible reaction to the conversation, other than a telltale tick in his jaw. Bronwyn pretended she hadn’t overheard anything. She knew Aedan was further annoyed when she avoided seating herself close beside him, but she’d made her way to the kitchen on the pretense of locating another bottle of wine. She formulated a plan to make her escape whilst staring into the depths of a cupboard, carefully keeping her back to the three of them, willing herself to breathe and assume a normal demeanor.