Alex shakes his head, his moment of humor fading. “Anyway…I thought I managed to keep it a secret.”
“Except she turned out to be sneakier than either of us expected, and she snuck into your office to figure out what you were hiding,” I say dryly.
“And subsequently disappeared on you,” Alex says glumly.
Neither of us say anything for a long moment. Alex is stewing in guilt and regret. I don’t know what to say to make him feel better. I don’t blame him, not really, but I don’t think he’ll believe me.
“Did you ever… Did you ever keep searching?” I ask cautiously after a moment. “After she left.”
“No,” he admits. “It was already enough of an invasion of your privacy. I didn’t want to look any further when I didn’t have to.”
Stunned, I stare at him, freezing in the act of cleaning a glass. Alex had accidentally tracked down all the evidence that was used in court to try and prove me guilty. Then he hid it from Jessica, the very woman who had requested his services, and tried to search for the reasons why I wasn’t in jail, ultimately failing to do so before Jessica left. After that, he stopped searching to respect my privacy, never knowing the truth. Yet he still treated me like a friend?
“You don’t…?” I can’t help but ask.
“I’m not a fool,” Alex says, and there’s a hint of imperiousness in his voice as he gives me a stern look over his glasses. “You were released, which means you were proven innocent. I didn’t have to keep looking to know that.”
A bubble of laughter wells up in me. Funny… This is the first time anyone who knows my story has actually believed me. My foster family at the time had cut all ties to me. Jessica had left me. No one other than my lawyer believed me, and I had always half suspected it was because of the fame he would get if he won my case.
“It was a frame.” The words leave me without my permission. There’s a tight feeling in my chest, as though I’ve been waiting for so long to finally speak. “My friends at the time… They framed me. They killed the girl on accident, and they figured that me, poor, fostered Grant, wouldn’t be missed by anyone. So they left evidence to try and prove it was me.”
“Shoddily,” Alex reminds me softly.
I snort. My hands are shaking. “Yeah. Luckily for me. The lawyer picked it all apart, essentially scolded the police and the entire court for not looking more closely. I still think I was voted innocent because he made them feel bad for picking on me. After that, I left Mississippi and made my way to Philadelphia. After a while, all the hype died down, and no one recognized me anymore.”
“It must have been terrible,” Alex says.
“I tried to forget about it all,” I say. “I think I even succeeded. I didn’t even really think about it when Jessica left.” I pause, lowering my eyes. “I had nightmares for the first time in years last night. Jessica really thought I was a murderer?”
“She was scared,” Alex points out. “Maybe part of her is still scared because she still doesn’t know the truth.”
“Does it matter?” I ask. This is the question that has been haunting me. “In some ways, I do understand. But she didn’t talk to me about it. She didn’t think logically. You figured out what was going on, just because I wasn’t in jail. So why couldn’t she?” My shoulders hunch. “Did she really trust me so little?”
“I don’t know,” Alex says quietly. “I’m sorry… I have no idea.”
I give him a half smile. “Don’t be sorry. You didn’t do anything wrong. You didn’t break us up. Jessica got paranoid and she forgot she could just ask me, and then she couldn’t figure out what to do. Maybe even I’m a little at fault; I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t try and ask her about it, either.”
“Maybe,” Alex says with a shrug of one, slim shoulder. “What are you going to do about it now?”
I laugh darkly.
“I have no idea,” I confess. “I couldn’t face it all last night, but I know I have to talk to her about it. I’m supposed to go over on Sunday, as per our agreement.” I pause. “Though maybe I should cancel, get a few more days to get my head in order. Or I could ask if Owen can come around to my place.”
“Or,” Alex says delicately, “you could talk to her.”
I wince. “Or that,” I sigh. “I just don’t know what to say. What do you say to a bombshell like that?”
“The truth?” Alex suggests. “Tell her what you just told me.”
Thing is, I don’t know if Jessica deserves the truth from me. She didn’t bother chasing down the full truth three years ago. Why do I have to give it to her now?
Then I remember that, only the other day, she asked to try again. She doesn’t know the whole truth. But she still wants to be in a relationship with me. She still wants to try and make things right.
“Okay,” I say. I hope I don’t regret this. “I’ll talk to her over the weekend.”