Harden My Hart - Clare Connelly
‘THIS ISN’T OPTIONAL, BRO.’
I close my eyes, wondering what time it is and, for a moment, where I am. Ibiza? Madrid? Rome?
I was on a yacht at some point—the lapping of the water is at the forefront of my mind—but was that last night? Or days ago? I train my eyes—so bleary it’s as if they’ve been acid-washed—on the side table. There’s a half-empty bottle of rum—apparently I drink rum now—my sunglasses, a pair of keys. Further into the room there’s my jeans and a shirt, thrown over a chair.
New York? Am I in New York?
‘What?’ My voice sounds like it’s been acid-washed too. All gravelled and deep. My mouth tastes like an ashtray. I push up, lifting a hand towards my hair to get it out of my eyes on autopilot before remembering I shaved it a month ago. It’s grown out a little, but it’s still short enough not to bother me.
‘Grace had the baby weeks ago. You have to go see them.’
Something pulls at my gut—something that momentarily makes breathing impossible. I have an almost irresistible urge to tell Theo all the things he seems to have forgotten:
Jagger’s your brother, not mine. I’m not a real Hart. That baby isn’t my niece. She’s yours.
But we’ve had all those conversations before, enough times for me to know he’ll never understand how it feels to wake up at twenty-nine thinking you’re one thing, only to have a meeting that pulls everything out from under you. To have no earthly idea who you are nor where you came from. To have lived your whole life with an inexplicable but no less real belief that you were different. Wrong somehow.
I’m not a Hart.
I never was.
I was raised by a Hart, raised to be a Hart, but the blood in my veins isn’t theirs. I don’t belong and never did—everything I’ve believed in my life is based on fraud. Even as I think that, I catch myself. Did I really feel like I belonged? Shards of memory slide through me, sharp and unrelenting.
‘You’re not like your brothers. You’ve gotta work harder, be better.’
Or, ‘I know your mom was prone to outbursts but in this house you keep a grip on how you’re feeling. Tears are for babies.’
That last one was a week after I’d moved in with the Harts—I was just a kid. My mom wasn’t coming back for me, I’d had a bad dream and all I wanted was to be held by her, to breathe her in, to feel her arms wrapping me tight.
‘You live here with me now. The sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll be.’
In some ways Ryan, the man who raised me, masquerading as my father, was right, but hearing it just made me want to break down and cry. I was terrified and miserable.
‘Holden?’ Theo’s waiting for me to say something. I shove the memories aside; they’re not helpful.
‘I will.’ I grip the phone, pushing out of bed on one wave of reluctance, forcing my feet to carry my naked body across the room. Something makes a noise. I turn around to see a woman in my bed.
Who is she? I frown, trying to piece together the events of last night, of the last few nights, with no success.
I grab my jeans, almost tripping over my feet as I step into them, zipping them up halfway then striding out of the bedroom and into the kitchen.
Los Angeles. The sun beats a path through the windows in a way I find offensive. I want to tell it to fuck off. Instead, I pull the curtains shut but the rough motion hurts my head.
‘Go there today.’
There’s half a bottle of beer left on the bench. I lift it, take a drink then pull a face. It’s room temperature and flat. ‘Why?’
‘Because. You’re being a dick. Your brother and his wife have had a baby and you’ve dropped off the face of the earth. Pull your head out of your arse and get there.’
I grip the phone tighter. Theo’s the baby of the family but he’s never pulled any punches with me. With anyone. I like that about him generally, but right now it makes me want to reach through the phone line and shake him.
‘I’ve got stuff on today.’
‘Don’t be such a shit. I’ll make the arrangements. Just get your butt to LAX by midday or I’ll fly over there and drag you to Australia myself.’
Five hours out of Sydney
I’M USED TO flying in luxury. It only