“Oh.” I let my elbow drop and straighten. His one word reply has said far more to me than many entire stories have. “I’m sorry.”
“As I am about yours.” His voice has softened and taken on a somber quality.
I study him, trying to read his impassive expression, and I am so hungry to understand this man, I dare to go where I probably should not. “How old were you when she died?” I hold my breath; waiting on an answer I’m not sure he will give me. He has, after all, confessed an unwillingness to share personal details with the women he…dates? Fucks? I’m not sure. Actually, there is a whole heck of a lot I’m not sure about at this juncture of my life.
“Car accident when I was five.”
He spits out the information without hesitation, almost as if he’s reciting someone else’s story, but I see it for what it is - a coping mechanism. I know that mechanism all too well. You find a place to put things, to deal with them or you crash and burn.
“I was twenty-two when I lost my mother,” I say, offering him no words of sympathy. I’ve heard them myself. I know they don’t help. “She had a massive heart attack the day of my college graduation.”
He stares at me and we share a moment of understanding, of loss, of knowing there is nothing more to say. We both had something sucky happen to us. We both dread the rambling sympathetic purrs of those who discover our losses. We both get it and each other. We just…understand.
Seconds tick by and I think I’ve shared more in these moments with this man I’ve known only days than I have anyone except maybe my mother. We understand each other in a way few can.
It’s Chris who breaks the silence, reaching for his fork and motioning to my plate. “Eat before my masterpiece gets cold.”
I nod and in silent unison, we pick up our forks and begin to eat again in silence, both thoughtful. There are so many questions I could ask but I don’t. Personal questions about his family I know I can’t ask now, if ever. He’s already shared more with me than I expected, as I have with him. Still, with this new revelation about his mother, I want to know this man now more than ever.
“Why painting?” I ask. “Why not a sport or the piano, like your father?”
His jaw tenses, barely perceivable, but I notice, and I wonder why. What nerve have I hit?
“My father dated a rather famous artist who decided I needed an outlet outside the schoolyard brawls I was getting into for my anger.”
“Wait. You were fighting? You don’t seem like a fighter.” Then again, he’d all but flattened Mark, who had seemed untouchable, with nothing more than words.
“I was a teenager. I was in a new place and I didn’t speak the language, and I was an outsider to the other kids. It was fight or get beat up. I don’t like being beat up. The problem was that once I started fighting, I looked for reasons to keep doing it. I was pissed off about being in Paris and wanted to come back here. The result was I got kicked out of school.”
“Ouch. What did your father do?”
“He didn’t even know. The woman he was dating at the time — the artist I mentioned - stepped in and got me back into school. Then she sat me down and told me I had anger issues and had to find an outlet. She shoved a paintbrush in my hand and told me to create something worth looking at.”
“And what did you draw?”
He laughs. “Freddy Krueger from Nightmare On Elm Street. One of my best works to date, I might add. I was trying to be a smart ass.”
I laugh. “You? A smart ass? Never.”
“You think I’m a smart ass?”
“You ordered a beer at a wine tasting.”
“You have to admit Mark’s obvious discomfort was priceless.”
As much as I want to take this opening to talk about the prior night’s events, I’d rather him keep talking about himself. “I’m not feeding this battle between you and Mark. What happened when you revealed your Freddy drawing?”
“She said I still had anger issues but I was also talented as hell and if I didn’t put it to use she’d go Freddy Kruger on me.”
“And so it began,” I say softly. Warmth fills me with this story, and I wonder who the artist was who’d helped him, but I’ve already surmised Chris does everything with specific intent, including avoiding the use of her name.
“And so it began.”
He gives me a keen inspection and I can see his mind working, and my skin prickles in a prelude to whatever probing questions I’ve earned with all of mine.
“So, Sara,” he beings slowly. “Tell me. Just how rich is your father?”
I inhale and shove aside my plate. He’s told me more than I expected him to tell me, more than he claims he tells anyone. I can’t shut him down and I know he isn’t interested in the money, as much as me walking away from it.
I pull my feet to the chair and hug my knees, the big robe a cloak, a shelter of sorts. “He’s the CEO of Neptune Technologies.”
He arches a brow. “As in the cable network?”
He leans back in his chair to study me. “And you live in a modest apartment on a teacher’s salary?”
“You hate him that much.”
It’s not a question so I don’t answer. I get up and walk to the coffee pot and come back to the table. I hold the pot up to him. He offers me his cup and I fill it. He glances up at me, his eyes probing. “Thank you.”