“No. I stick to private rooms.” The calm I have managed to keep fades away. I push against him. “I want to leave.”

He holds me steadily. “You mean run away?”


“Damn it, Chris, you said I could go when I wanted to.”

He slides his hand around my neck, pulling my mouth to his. “And you said you wouldn’t run.”

“I just…I need out of this place, Chris. I need out of here now.”

He steps back from me abruptly, and pain radiates off of him and some part of me burns to go to him, to hug him. To tell him I think I might love him, but I can’t compute the man I’ve come to know and the man who is a part of this place.

“Please take me to my car.”

I watch him, his expression steel, his eyes still icy, and I feel him closing off from me. Or maybe this time, it’s me withdrawing. I am a mess, shaking inside and out. He hits the remote and turns off the screen, tossing it to the ground, then motions to the door. He doesn’t touch me and the walk down the hall is eternal. I don’t look at the men in their suits, unwilling to see the mockery surely in their eyes. Soon, we are in the dark car again, and the silence stretches thick and heavy between us. I am numb, unable to form coherent thoughts. I’m in a haze when Chris pulls his car behind mine.

“Come home with me,” he surprises me by saying. “Come home with me and give me a chance to explain, Sara.”

My chest has never hurt like it hurts now. “I can’t be what you need.”

He turns to me, and he starts to touch me, but he hesitates and lets his hands drop. “You are what I need. You make me feel alive, Sara.”

The use of my own words tightens my throat and a burn starts in the back of my eyes. I study him, search his face. “Can you truthfully tell me you will never need pain again?”

“This is new to me, Sara. That lifestyle has been my drug of choice. My way of feeling nothing. But I do feel now. I feel with you and for you. What it did for me it can’t do for me anymore.”

It is everything I want to hear and yet not enough. “But you can’t know you will never need that…place again.”

“Whatever I need you can give me.”

I shake my head. “No. No, I can’t.” I reach for the door and he grabs my arm. Heat races through me and I feel a sudden need to touch him, to feel him close. It overwhelms me, confuses me.

“Please don’t run, Sara.”

We stare at each other and something snaps between us. I don’t know who moves first but we come together in a hot, searing kiss, and the feel of his hands lacing into my hair touching me is everything I need and not enough.

I am panting when he presses his forehead to mine. “Come home with me.”

It would be so easy to say ‘yes’ but I am confused and uncertain. “I can’t think when I’m with you, Chris. I can’t think and I need to think.”

“I leave in the morning.”

“I know.” And I don’t want him to leave, which is a testament to how messed up my head is right now. I want space and time, but I want him with me, too. “I…think that gives me some time to process. I need…time.”

He pulls back, searching my face through the shadows of the dark car. “Okay.” His hands drop from me, and I am cold and lost without his touch.

Okay. He’s letting me go, and I know it’s what I’ve asked for, but it still hurts. I fumble for my purse and briefcase, and they are tangled in my feet. Chris helps me and I manage to slip both straps over my shoulder.

He reaches for the coat but I don’t want it. I need out of the car before I change my mind. I shove open the door and stand on wobbly knees, closing Chris inside behind me. All but running, I rush toward my car, clicking the lock and climbing in.

Once I’m inside, I turn on the engine and tear out of the parking space. The minute I’m on the road, driving away from Chris, the tears start to fall. I swipe at them, trying to see the road.

By the time I walk into my apartment, I am a mess. I lock the door and slide down the wooden surface and explode into tears. My phone beeps with a text message and I don’t look at it. Blindly, I push to my feet and find my way to a hot shower.

I have no concept of how much time has elapsed when I retrieve my cell phone and curl into a ball in the bed. Steeling myself for a message I am sure is from Chris, I glance at the screen.

Please let me know you are home safe. Then ten minutes later. Sara. I need to know you are okay. The messages continue until the final one, five minutes before. If I don’t hear from you soon I’m coming to check on you.

I’m fine, I type and drop the phone onto the mattress, but I’m not fine at all.

***

The next morning I barely pull myself out of bed and when I glance at the clock, I know Chris is gone, in a plane, headed to another city. I have a week to think, a week to miss him. A week to get my head on straight. I’m drinking coffee when I begin to think about what he’d said. Give me a chance to explain. The memory hits me like a cannonball, shaking me to the core. He craves pain so he doesn’t feel other things. What other things? Deep down is a growing certainty that there is far more to Chris’s past than I know. What has he endured and how can I judge him when I have no idea how horrific it might be?

I walk to my bed where I’ve laid out my black skirt and beige blouse, but a sudden need to be close to Chris sends me to my new suitcase, where I pull out the final dress from my gift bags, a cream-colored dress with a flare to the skirt.

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