I can feel myself spiraling down into the hell of that night. I’m starting to crumble and I know I have to get somewhere private and pull myself together, to think and find a way out of this. My gaze lifts, seeking an escape route, and collides with Chris’s from across the room. I see the worry in his face, feel it from a distance. That’s how powerful our connection is, and the vise around my chest tightens. Oh, God. I love this man, and I’m about to destroy him. I turn away from him and weave through the crowd. I cannot face him until I pull myself together, to get through tonight without a public meltdown.
Darting away, I weave through the crowd, worried Chris will catch up to me before I gain my composure, before I figure out how to fix this mess, but I have no idea where I’m going. I’m just walking, weaving, blindingly seeking escape.
I grab a passing waiter. “Ladies’ room?”
He points to a sign and I rush away, turning a corner, close to escape, when I bump right into Gina. “Sorry. I’m sorry.”
She grabs my arms to steady me and casts me a concerned look. “Are you okay?”
“Yes. Yes. I ate something that didn’t sit well. I need a bathroom.” It’s a horrible excuse but it’s all I have.
“Okay.” She steps aside and calls, “Do you want me to get Chris?”
“No!” I exclaim, whirling around. “Please no. I don’t want him to see me like this.” I push open the door and walk past the woman at the sink, and I don’t dare look at her. I head inside the handicapped stall directly in front of me and lock the door. On wobbly legs, I fall against the wall opposite the toilet. This is what everything in my life has collided together and become. Me, staring at a toilet, trying not to fall apart. Somehow it’s perfectly appropriate.
A flashback of two years ago overtakes me. Of Michael driving me back to my hotel and walking me to my door. Of how gentle and sweet he’d seemed. I’d invited him in to talk. Just talk, I’d told him.
The instant the door had shut, everything had changed. He’d been angry, damning me for leaving, for making him look bad. I can almost feel the moment he slammed me against the wall and his body covered mine. And his hands were everywhere, all over me. I start to shake again. I can’t stop shaking. I hug myself and will away the memories. My eyes prickle and I will away the tears. I will not give Michael the satisfaction of making me cry. I have to go back to the party and look presentable. I have to smile. I have to get through this night without ruining it for Chris.
It’s Chris’s voice, and I can’t believe he’s in the bathroom. He never does what I expect or what is normally considered acceptable. And he is always there at my worst moments. Always. The only person who ever has been.
“She’s in the back stall,” the woman at the sink instructs.
“Can you give us a minute?” he asks.
“I’ll watch the door,” she tells him, clearly knowing him. Great. Already someone to tell the world about some incident Chris’s date had tonight.
“Sara.” His voice is a soft caress, a promise he is here for me, maybe for the last time.
“You can’t be in here, Chris.” And damn it, my voice cracks.
“Open the door, baby. I need to see you.”
“I can’t. I can’t open the door.”
“Because if I do I’ll cry and mess up my makeup.”
“Let me in, Sara.” His voice is gentle but insistent.
“Please, Chris. I’ll be out in a minute and I’ll be fine.” But I don’t sound fine. My voice is strained, barely recognizable.
“You know me. I’m not going to leave without you opening up.”
You know me. I do know him and I know how much trust and privacy means to him. Not only did I lie to him, but he let me inside his world, and Michael is about to make it public.
“Sara.” There is a push to the way he says my name, a gentle command, but still a command.
He isn’t going away. He’s too ridiculously stubborn. I unlock the door and step back to the wall, telling myself to make up yet another lie to get him past this evening, to protect him. Once we are back at the hotel, then I’ll tell him everything. That’s my plan but I fail miserably. The instant I see Chris, my brilliant, damaged, amazing artist who’s let me into his life, and who I am about to lose, I lose it. My legs give out and I sink to the floor, tears bursting from some deep hidden place I’ve never visited but I knew existed.
Chris squats down in front of me and his hands are on my shoulders, strong and sure, and I cry harder. I can’t stop the waterfall. He shifts to lean against the wall and pulls me against him. “This isn’t how this is supposed to happen.”
“This isn’t how what was supposed to happen?” he asks, stroking my hair and urging me to look at him with a finger under my chin. “This is about the man I saw you talking to, isn’t it?”
“Michael.” My stomach knots just saying his name. “That was Michael. I . . .” I draw a deep breath of courage and rush into my confession. “There are things I haven’t told you. I meant to. I wanted to. I knew I had to but I just . . . I just wanted to forget and . . .” I bury my hands in my face. I can’t look at him. I can’t. My body shakes and I will away the tears I can’t seem to escape.
Chris slides his hands to my head and forces my gaze back to his, his green eyes searching mine, and he sees too much, he sees what I don’t want him to, what I can’t hide from. He sees the demons I’m battling and how easily they have owned me.