Alone in her hotel room, Alyssa scrolled through her social media notifications. She'd been under assault for almost two weeks. Every day, Jazz emerged with new photos, new proof of the elicit, dangerous, and deceptive relationship Alyssa had with Pasha. All garbage claims with no basis other than a photo and a narrative Jazz had created.
Still, the onslaught of hate from men and some women she'd never met was getting a bit much. She'd blocked and muted more people in the last few days than she'd ever thought possible. How were there so many vile people in the world? She hadn't had a chance to talk to Mia, but they were both tagged in almost every post Jazz made.
Mia's notifications were probably flooded with random people's insights into her life, her songs, the way she ran her business on a daily basis. Perhaps this onslaught wasn't any worse than normal. If it wasn't for Pasha, Alyssa's thick skin would have started to crack.
Every night, Pasha came to her room, and every night, she'd pass him her phone, and he'd scroll through her mentions, blocking and muting people while they talked about their day. She'd agreed to let him help her with her notifications after he'd found her crying over one particularly nasty comment made by a dancer she used to know. They'd been friends, once, and the comment had stung more than any of Jazz's posts. This person knew her and still believed she was a terrible person for violating such a small piece of her contract.
After they'd talked, Pasha had suggested deleting all her social media apps off her phone since she never knew what she'd find. But she already felt disconnected from her friends and family while on tour. With only four days between the wedding and rehearsals for Sarah's tour, she wanted to be in the loop when she saw everyone. So, her social media accounts were staying, even if it strained her emotional resilience.
When a knock sounded on her hotel room door, she jumped. She'd been caught up in the vitriol against her, Mia, and Pasha. Tucking her phone in her back pocket, she checked the peephole.
Mia. Alone. She never went anywhere alone.
Opening the door, Alyssa stepped to the side to welcome Mia into the room, and then she peered into the hallway. Ah. Mia hadn't come alone. Not quite so weird then. Gerald stood a few feet away, and he gave her a small salute. In response, she smiled and closed the door, her mind ticking through all the reasons Mia might have come.
"Are you pumped for our last practice today?" She asked and followed Mia deeper into her hotel room. Pasha had been in charge of room assignments, and his suite had an adjoining door with hers. Since she hadn't been expecting company, the doors between the rooms were wide open. They weren't hiding anymore, but should they be so obvious?
Mia stared at the clear view into Pasha's room, neat and tidy as always, before focusing on Alyssa. "Sure, yeah. The dance is great. I didn't come about that, actually."
"Oh." Alyssa's heart sank. She'd avoided a lecture about contracts and obligations and letting Mia down. Was that what was coming? She'd hoped they'd skipped that part when Mia hadn't even spoken to her about their lies. Pasha had borne the brunt of their betrayal, and she'd been okay with that. Selfish, maybe. But Alyssa didn't like confrontation, especially when she realized she'd been in the wrong. "Uh, what can I do for you then?" She perched on a nearby chair and gestured for Mia to take a seat.
Mia didn't sit. Instead, she went to the balcony window and peered out at the crashing waves. "Did you," she cleared her throat, "have you been muting and blocking people like I suggested?"
Alyssa scooched deeper into the chair and tugged her phone out of her back pocket. "Yeah, mostly." Not at first, but now she blocked without second guessing herself. Muted people for one annoying response. She didn't owe any of these anonymous people anything.
"Good. Good. Great." Mia spun on her heel. "I just wanted to come see how you were handling the fallout. It's been...a lot."
Alyssa searched Mia's face, her downcast eyes. "For you too?"
"Sure, yeah. Having people rake you over hot coals never gets less painful. Even when the hot coals are artificial, fake." She rubbed her face. "I don't know—I hope you're not reading it—but people have been particularly nasty because I'm supposed to be all about women's empowerment. I own that. I built my reputation off the back of the fallout from Kenny Connors. So, you know, that's mine. But it stings when people create this false comparison. Jazz being fired, and you and Pasha being together don't have anything to do with female empowerment. My morals and values are just fine. Thank you very much."
"Right." Alyssa stared at Mia in stunned silence. Was Mia having a hard time? She was getting married tomorrow. From everything she'd heard from her friends who'd gotten married, a wedding was a big deal. For a while, marriage had been a vague concept. Something for someday with someone. Now, when she envisioned a man at the end of the aisle, the figure took shape, the image lighting up her heart. "Are you okay?"
"Oh, me? Sure. Yeah. I just—Tyler banned me from social media until after the wedding—so I don't know what's been happening today."
Today? She'd been keeping up with the nonsense every day before that? No wonder she looked rattled. Alyssa's sanity had been saved by Pasha clearing her notifications at least once a day, sometimes more. "I'm really sorry." Should she say she regretted her relationship with Pasha? Maybe. "I regret how everything came out."
"Me too." Mia tapped a manicured nail against the wooden frame of the window. "I handle stuff like this all the time—well, it's been a while since it's been this bad—but still, I wanted to make sure you were okay."
"I'm doing okay. Pasha's been great at helping to manage assholes who think they have a right to weigh in."
"So, being with him has been worth all this? If you had to do it again and all that jazz...?"
"Worth it?" Alyssa raised her eyebrows. "You're asking me if Pasha is worth the harassment?"
"Sure." She shrugged. "For a guy. Was the stress worth the relationship?"
Alyssa laughed. "A guy? He's not just any guy. He's..." What was he? "I never realized men like him existed. I'd never found one. Douchebags, liars, losers, cheats, thieves. Those were the guys I was attracted to, the ones I dated. He's the best guy I've ever known. Hands down. He's got the trophy in the bag."
Mia gave a satisfied nod. "Then I guess it's worth all this. I'll see you at rehearsal later." At the door, Mia turned back and examined her. "Your routine is truly amazing. And I hope after the wedding, once everyone sees how brilliant you are, they're talking about that instead of about this."
Alyssa placed her hand over her heart, a soft glow building in her chest. "Thank you. God, that means a lot. A whole lot."
"Tomorrow's your last full day on the island. But it's going to be a busy one. I've given Pasha the rest of the day off—except for our final rehearsal. I hope you two have a good day together."
"Thank you." Alyssa took a depth breath, finding her courage. "I know I already said sorry, and I am. But I'm even sorrier for letting you down. You gave me this job. You trusted me with the routine. I shouldn't have violated my contract."
Mia's lips quirked up in a partial smile. "You clearly haven't been following as many hashtags as me. Look up the hypocrite one and my name. You'll get a whole host of mistakes I've made."
Alyssa pressed her hand to her heart. "Oh, Mia."
She waved her off. "No, sorry. That was a shitty way to say I've made mistakes too. I mean, look at me and Tyler. He became my employee, and people who don't understand how pregnancy works think that's when our relationship started. Feelings aren't neat and tidy, and I get that. I wish you'd done things differently, but I'm not holding what's happened against you. Okay? Are we cool?"
A wave of gratitude washed over Alyssa. "Yeah. We're cool."
"Excellent. Enjoy your day." Mia closed the door behind her.
With a satisfied sigh, Alyssa left her phone on the bed and went to find Pasha.
Next update: Wednesday, January 22nd
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Guarding HeartsGeneral Fiction
**Little Falls Series #3 -- can be read as a standalone but will probably be more enjoyable if you've read Mending Hearts first** Pasha Lebedev is honored when Mia Malone, world-famous pop star, asks him to fill in as her father figure at her weddin...