Twisted love by ANA HUANG ,chapter 36,AVA

THE NEXT HOUR PASSED IN A BLUR. THE POLICE AND PARAMEDICS ARRIVED, peppering me with questions and medical checkups and lots of somber looking faces. I endured them all, my answers flat and robotic. By the time they finished, I wanted to crawl into my bed and never get out—if I could bring myself to move. “Ava?” Bridget placed a tentative hand on my arm. “The police said we can go. Rhys will drive us back.” The massive bodyguard hovered so close he was practically on top of us, his usual stoic mask replaced with pure fury. I didn’t blame him. We’d gotten ourselves into this mess. Bridget and I had wanted to see one of our favorite bands perform in D.C. last night. Cool indie bands didn’t visit the city often, and when they did, we took advantage. Except…Rhys had flat-out forbidden Bridget from going because it wasn’t safe, and instead of arguing with him—which we all knew by now was useless—Bridget snuck out in the middle of the night. Everything had gone according to plan until the camouflage-wearing psycho yanked us off the street after the concert and into the back of his van. It’d happened so fast we didn’t have time to scream. We’d fought back as hard as we could, and my amateur self-defense training allowed me to land a few hits, but he’d eventually knocked us out. When we woke up, we found ourselves in freakin’ Philadelphia. A shudder rippled down my spine. Our kidnapper must’ve been watching us for God knew how long before he made his move, which creeped me out more than the actual kidnapping part. “Are you ready?” Despite her calm tone, I detected a small shake in
Bridget’s shoulders, and I suspected that was the reason Rhys hadn’t torn us a new one yet. In fact, he hadn’t said a word to us except to explain he’d found us via the chip he’d placed in Bridget’s phone, which he’d activated when he discovered she wasn’t in her room that morning. It was a testament to how much we’d fucked up that Bridget didn’t utter a peep about him secretly tracking her. My eyes strayed toward Alex, who looked remarkably composed for someone who’d shot his uncle, killed our kidnapper, and almost died himself. He spoke with a police officer, his face not betraying a hint of agitation. You were nothing more than a means to an end. “Almost,” I said. My voice sounded strange to my ears. Low and hollow, almost lifeless. “I need to talk to him.” Bridget and Rhys exchanged glances, their mutual concern for me overshadowing their animosity. “Ave, I’m not sure that’s a good idea—” I ignored her. I stood, stepped around Bridget, and walked toward Alex, keeping the blanket the EMT gave me wrapped tight around my shoulders. One foot in front of the other. This entire day felt surreal. I kept thinking it was a new type of nightmare and that I would wake up at any moment, but I never did. Even when I told the police what happened, I felt like I was talking about a movie, not my life. The story came out in pieces and half-truths. I told the officers Alex’s uncle hired someone to kidnap us as leverage because Alex had ousted him as CEO, but I didn’t mention their twisted family history. That wasn’t my story to tell. I could honestly say I didn’t know what happened after Bridget and I left—how Alex’s uncle had ended up with six bullets in him or how the kidnapper had, according to the queasy-looking officer, ended up more carved up than a jack-o’-lantern on steroids. I technically didn’t know, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out what happened. I wasn’t sure what Alex told the police but considering they hadn’t arrested him for killing two people yet, I assumed he’d spun a convincing tale of self-defense. He was, after all, the consummate liar. Right? Or had he been lying about lying? There was only one way to find out. Alex noticed me first. He said something to the officer, who nodded and left.
I stopped two feet from him, my hands strangling the blanket. He looked like old Alex again—unruffled and uncaring, with eyes like chips of jade-colored ice. I didn’t see a hint of the Alex I’d gotten to know over the past few months. The one who’d stayed and canceled a date to watch movies with me, the one who’d choked down one of the most disgusting cookies ever made and lied about it being “fine” because he didn’t want to hurt my feelings, the one who’d taught me to swim and showed me a world I’d thought only existed in fantasies. A world in which I loved and had been loved in return. He hadn’t said it, but I thought…I’d really thought he loved me and had just been too scared to say it. Now, I questioned whether the Alex I “knew” had ever existed. Perhaps it really had all been a ruse, a role played by a psychopath bent on vengeance and taking advantage of my unsuspecting heart. Or…he’d been lying, and he’d said all those things in front of his uncle to save me because he didn’t want his uncle to know he cared. His tale seemed too elaborate to be fake, but Alex was a genius. He could do anything. I clung to the tattered remains of my hope with bloody fingers. “I thought you would’ve left by now.” He slid his hands into his pockets, the picture of cool nonchalance. “I wanted to speak to you first.” “Why?” Heat rose on my face. Leave before you embarrass yourself any further! my pride screamed, but that horrible flicker of hope insisted I stay until the end. “I wanted to know.” He lifted a bored brow. “You and me.” I was almost afraid to ask, but I had to know. “Was any of it real?” Alex stilled, and I held my breath, hoping, praying… “I tried to warn you, sweetheart,” he said, his face impassive. “I told you not to romanticize me, to harden that soft heart. It was my one courtesy for the kindness you’ve shown me over the years. But you fell for me, anyway.” His jaw tightened. “Consider it a lesson for the future. Pretty words and pretty faces don’t equal pretty souls.” My hope turned to ashes. My soft heart? No. I didn’t have a heart at all, not anymore. He’d torn it out of my chest, sliced it to ribbons with the blades of his words, and tossed
the shreds aside without a second thought. I should say something. Anything. But I couldn’t think of a single thing. I wished for an iota of my earlier anger and hurt, but none came. I was numb. I might’ve stood there forever had gentle hands not guided me into Rhys’s waiting car. I thought I heard Bridget hiss something at Alex, but I couldn’t be sure. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. Bridget didn’t try to talk to me or feed me platitudes. That would’ve only made things worse. Instead, she let me sit in silence and stare out the window, watching dead tree after dead tree fly by. I couldn’t remember why I liked winter. Everything looked dull and gray. Lifeless. I made it all the way to the border of Maryland. There, it started raining, the tiny drops sprinkling over the window like scattershot crystals. I remembered the day Alex picked me up when I was stranded in the rain, and I. Broke. Down. All my pent-up emotion from the past few hours—the past few months— burst forth at the same time. I was an ant swept up in a tidal wave, and I didn’t bother fighting. I let it wash over me—the hurt, the anger, the heartbreak and betrayal and sadness—until my eyes burned and my muscles ached from the force of sobs. Somehow, I found myself curled up in Bridget’s lap while she stroked my hair and murmured soothing sounds. It would’ve been terribly embarrassing, crying into a royal princess’s lap, except I was beyond caring. Why was it always me? What about me made me so damn unlovable? So gullible? My favorite color. Yellow. My favorite ice cream flavor. Mint chocolate chip. You are the light to my dark, Sunshine. Without you, I’m lost. Lies. All of it. Every kiss, every word, every second that I had treasured…tainted. My eyes burned with liquid fire. I couldn’t breathe. Everything hurt, from the outside to the inside, as I sobbed terrible, wretched, soul-wracking tears. Michael had lied to me. Alex had lied to me. Not for days, weeks, or months, but for years.
Something inside me broke, and I was no longer only crying for my shattered heart but for the girl I used to be—the one who’d believed in light and love and the goodness of the world.

That girl was gone.

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