I'd obtained Angelique's address from O'Flaherty after signing the contract with Joseph, so I knew where to go. But, in yet another of my attempts to ‘keep things in perspective,' I'd never visited Angelique’s home. How pathetic that seemed now.

 

I still had no idea exactly what I’d say, and I felt uncharacteristically nervous as I stood on her doorstep. Nevertheless, I’d convinced myself that Angelique would be at least a bit pleased to see me. I’d even optimistically pictured her look of surprise and then pleasure when opening the door.  So, I was rudely shocked when Adam confronted me. He was astounded too but recovered with a venomous, "What the fuck are you doing here?"

 

"Not that's it's any of your business, but I'm here to see Angelique," I said once I recovered my composure. He refused to let me in or tell her that I was there, so our exchange escalated rapidly. I called him sanctimonious, and he pretty much repeated the things he'd said in court, only with much less civility. He also accused me of further humiliating Angelique by flaunting my relationship with Cynthia.

“Go home, Justin; call her.  If Angelique wants to see you, she'll let you know,” he dismissed me.

 

"Fuck you, Adam!  You don't know a damned thing about how I feel,” I returned and told him he was no better than the man he accused me of being. “You may fool Angelique, but don't expect me to believe you're prepared to jeopardize your career for her,” I said and asked why he was there.

 

"I'm nothing like you, and I was invited,” he shot back. His blatant disdain and confidence in his right to be with Angelique rankled, and I responded with a remark I'll forever regret.  "And I think you forget that I've been here first,” I spat.

 

Before I could contemplate my blunder, he'd pinned me against the wall. Adam’s anger reminded me of his reaction to Tom dating his sister, only magnified many times over. I realized, then, just how deeply he already cared for Angelique. I’d just managed to free my arms to fight him off when I spotted her horrified face. I hoped, desperately, that she hadn't heard my last remark, but the hurt in her eyes when she glanced at me told me she had.

 

Her attention, other than that one brief look, was focused on Adam. She placed a hand on his back, and his immediate relaxation at her touch told me they'd already established a physical bond. The thought of what that meant felt like a lance through my heart. He wrapped his arms around her protectively, his voice soft and concerned as he pleaded with her to go back inside.  She mumbled her dissent, her face buried in his chest.

 

"Angelique," I stepped forward, but he ordered me away. "This is between Angelique and me. It has nothing to do with you,” I said forcefully, and he tried, gently, to extricate himself from her hold, prepared, no doubt, to get physical once more. She pleaded with him not to land himself in trouble, and I couldn’t help but notice that she'd yet to address me.

"Do you want to speak to him?" Adam asked worriedly. His uncertainty thrilled me; it gave me hope.

"There are things I need to say," Angelique replied, and I didn't miss her apologetic tone. That didn't make me happy. He tried to object, but she reassured him that she needed to do it for her, not me.  He agreed reluctantly, and she promised not to be long. When she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him on the mouth, I felt like I'd taken a blow to the chest.

He turned to me then. “I've found someone I want, not something. To me, she's everything, and I'd risk it all for her," he said, his tone a clear challenge, before he cupped her face in his hands. He wiped away her tears, kissed her forehead tenderly, and told her he'd leave the door open in case she needed him.

I couldn't resist a smug grin at the worry in his eyes.  'He's not that sure of her,' I thought, buoyed by the discovery.

"Angelique—" I stated, closing the distance between us, but she cut me off and coolly asked what I was doing there. I tried disarming her the way I always had. "I'd think it would be obvious," I said. "I wanted to see you."  I was taken aback when she responded with a blunt, "Why?"  I tried to keep our exchange light, but Angelique was determined to cut to the chase.

"I miss you," I confessed, kicking myself for not saying it before.

"It took you all this time to realize that?" she asked, clearly unmoved, and I understood, then, that I needed to lay my feelings on the line.

"I've missed you,” I told Angelique. She returned my earnest look with one of disbelief. "Surely you understand how impossible it was to see you with all the media attention?" I reasoned, reaching for her, but she stepped back and asked me not to touch her. I felt bitter, remembering her tender little exchange of just moments before.

"So Thorne can touch you, kiss you, but I can't? You've known him for how long?" I accused. Angelique's usually warm eyes flashed with anger.

'What I do with Adam, or anyone else, for that matter, is not your concern," she replied.  I conceded that I deserved her anger but pointed out how different the outcome might have been if that one crucial juror had read about us meeting during the trial. "I’ve told you I missed you, and you haven't even acknowledged that," I pointed out.

"Don't talk to me about the damage the press can cause," she snapped. "I've paid the price for what I did. I'm still paying, and I really don't feel obligated to respond to statements about missing me. You haven't missed me; you've missed our arrangement. I know you couldn’t see me, Justin, but you could at least have called. One phone call or message would have made all the difference. Instead, you treated me exactly like the prostitute I now understand is all I ever was to you."

My denial made no difference, and I had little time to contemplate Angelique's accusation. It took some time before I realized that Tom had lied about his communication with her. 

She challenged me about my crass statement she'd overheard and remained unmoved by anything I said.

"Adam was right when he told you to go home. Rehashing the past won't change anything," she said. I asked whether she'd forgotten how good our relationship had been.

"It wasn't good for me, Justin. It was good and convenient for you—a way to get what you wanted while you decided which suitable woman would best serve your ambitions."  Her voice broke near the end.

"Angelique, I love you; I grew to love you," I confessed. "It was good for that reason. If it had just been about sex, several other escorts who would have served the purpose."

"You don't love me. If you did, you would have shown me. What about your fiancée?  Where do you see me fitting into your marriage plans?" she asked. I denied being engaged to Cynthia. Staring into Angelique’s eyes, however, I couldn't bring myself to lie and tell her I envisaged marriage with her. At that stage, I hadn't contemplated anything beyond just being with her again.

"You've just proven my point," she said. "You may not be engaged to her now, but you will marry her or someone like her."

"But I won't love her, Angelique.  I want to keep seeing you," I admitted the only thing I knew for sure right then.

"I'm no longer a prostitute, Justin, and, as you've so rightly pointed out, there are plenty of others to meet your needs." I understood, then that I'd squandered any chance I might have had with her.

"Dammit, Angelique. I'm not suggesting I pay you. I don't want to lose you," I made one last bid, but she told me she was no longer interested in being my dirty secret. "Paid or unpaid," she stressed and went on to say that she'd forever regret taking Joseph up on his offer.

"So you regret me too? Do you hate me now? I asked somewhat pathetically.

"I don't hate you. No one held a gun to my head. I'm responsible for my actions, not you, not even Joseph, but I regret that I sold myself, and you played a role in that. So yes, I regret the arrangement we had," she admitted and then asked me to leave, reminding me that Adam was waiting for her.

"So, you're what? In love with him now?" I demanded, stung by her rejection.  "Do you really think he'll give up his ambitions for you? Angelique, Adam has tried all of his life to be accepted in society.  He's not—" I allowed my resentment to boil over, but she cut me short. Her passionate response shocked me. I'd never seen Angelique defend anyone that vehemently, not even herself.

"Don't speak about him in that demeaning way. Adam's worked his whole life to be a good man—he is a good man. He's shown me more regard in this short time than you have in nearly two years.  I don't know if Adam means to stay with me, but I know he's already made sacrifices for me. He cares for me, as flawed as I am, and as little as I have to offer someone like him. Because of that, I believe in him. He's worth it."

Her words cut like a knife. I made one last effort to reason with her, but she cut me off again, saying she was glad I hadn't gone to prison and wished me nothing but happiness and good fortune. Her final words will stay with me forever.

"I suggest that when you marry, you do so for love, not to boost your career.  Find a woman you'd sacrifice everything for, even if you don't have to. You'd be surprised how much she'd risk in return."

She reentered her apartment without a backward glance, and I left feeling empty. I lost the woman I love, the woman I hadn't even been aware I loved until it was too late. I'd been too selfish to give Angelique what she needed and deserved. How the hell am I supposed to find someone I'd sacrifice everything for when I couldn't do it for the woman who affected me like no other before?

I called Tom on my way home. We met at my apartment, where I challenged him about his interaction with Angelique before and during my trial. He denied lying at first, suggesting that Angelique had deliberately misled me. “That’s who she is, Justin, an opportunist who sells herself. Adam's just her next meal ticket,“ he said, but I stopped him with an uppercut to his jaw and tossed him out. But Tom and I have been friends for ages; we have too much in common for me to sever our friendship completely. It took weeks before I’d speak to him again, weeks, during which I had enough time to consider my own actions and rue them. Tom apologized, naturally, and deep down, I knew he’d only behaved the way we both had in the past. I bore some responsibility for his attitude toward Angelique. I was, after all, the one who demeaned her by paying her for sex.

My despair only increased with time, the chasm deepening each time I was confronted with evidence of Angelique and Adam’s romance. Pictures in the press of them visiting New York let me know she’d taken him to meet her mother. A retraction in a newspaper that had maligned her the day before, something I knew only he could have been responsible for, demonstrated his commitment to her. 

Then, while watching Adam address the media; his warning, his fierce defense of Angelique, and his unapologetic confirmation of their relationship, I could no longer deny that he loved her.

The media references to Angelique as a prostitute lessened over time. In fact,  some of the tabloid coverage of her and Adam's romance took on an almost fairy tale quality.  If only I'd dared to face down my father and my own petty prejudices, I thought. The irony that she hadn't even been an escort when I met her didn't escape me. The fact is, if I'd acted honorably, I wouldn't have had to go to the lengths that Adam had. 

I felt like I was drowning in my sense of loss and regret. I still do, but I tried to uphold my obligations to my family and Cynthia. I know she loves me, I know, and I wanted, at the very least, to spare her the despair I was suffering. I refused to give in to the pressure to propose, but I resolved to genuinely try.  We discussed our past attempts at being a couple, and I promised to give our relationship a chance.

Just when I thought I was starting to cope, I was struck by yet another blow. This one felt like a mortal wound. Cynthia and I were at a restaurant when Angelique and Adam entered. Anyone who glimpsed them for even a moment couldn't fail to recognize their love and joy at being together.

She spotted me over his shoulder once they were seated, For one delusionary moment, her distress had me thinking she may still harbor feelings for me. Adam looked back when noticing that her attention had strayed and scowled at the sight of me. He turned to Angelique solicitously and said something, no doubt suggesting they leave. She touched his face reassuringly, the ring impossible to miss. He captured her hand, bringing it to his lips, and kissed the finger wearing it. I knew his action had been deliberate. He'd claimed her as his for everyone to see—for me to see.

I grudgingly conceded that he deserves her. He faced down public criticism and scorn. He'd been willing, as he’d told me, to risk everything for her. He had, and he won. I should have let it rest at that, paid attention to the woman at my side, but I found it impossible. Cynthia valiantly tried to regain my interest, but when she caught me glancing at Angelique for what may have been the hundredth time, she demanded that we leave. I complied immediately, glad to have someone else make the decision to distance me from my regrets.

I tried to make amends but found it impossible to respond to Cynthia's efforts to seduce me that night. When photographs comparing both couples dining, accompanied by an unflattering headline aimed at Cynthia and me, surfaced in the press, Cynthia finally called an end to our relationship. I felt nothing but relief, even in the face of my father's displeasure.

Some may ask how I remember every one of Adam’s words said in court and during our confrontation; how I remember everything that passed between Angelique and me at her apartment that night. The fact is that each word is indelibly imprinted on my brain. I don't know if I'll ever be able to erase them because I've realized how much truth they hold. I had been selfish and can now acknowledge just how abysmally I treated Angelique.

I saw a beautiful young woman and lusted after her. I met her and was entranced, determined to have her, no matter what. If I hadn't realized the extent of her innocence before, I most certainly discovered it the first time we had sex. Angelique had clearly been a novice.  Instead of stopping, I shunned common decency and had my way with her. I ignored her shame and remorse. I could have, even at that late stage and any time between then and the time of my arrest, made reparations, but I chose not to. I admit now that I knew I was behaving reprehensibly but ignored my conscience. I became everything my father taught me to be—selfish and self-serving.

Adam Thorne, the college friend I'd never truly accepted; the man I viewed as one of 'them' and later rejected as being unnecessary to my ambitions, toppled me from my lofty perch. He called me out on my actions, made me admit my love for Angelique, and demonstrated how I could have, should have treated her.

This morning, I opened the newspaper to a single photograph and an announcement of their marriage. The pain I felt was crippling; it felt like I'd been run through with a sword.

And now, wracked by feelings of loss and regret, I’m left wondering how long I'll be plagued by thoughts of what could have been, just how long I'll be haunted by the thought of 'if only.'