“I’ll support you in any way I can, baby.”
“But not by doing things for me, Chris. Me earning success because I’m me. I need that.”
“I understand.” He brushes my hair off my shoulders, his fingers resting on my neck in that familiar way I’ve missed so much these past few days. “We’re going to make this work this time.”
The conviction in his voice makes me believe him. “Yes, we will.” I text Mark and drop my phone to the counter, not caring what the reply is. Not when Chris’s fingers are tugging at my blouse.
He slowly strips away my clothing, tenderly kissing my shoulders, my neck, my lips. We step under the blissful heat of the hot shower, washing away the chill of the night, and with it the bitter cold of all we have been through these past few days. Resting my head on Chris’s chest, being in his arms, I feel as if I’ve been lost and found again. But Rebecca is still lost, and I fear the worst for her.
Chris and I spend several hours on Saturday at the police station, and the Rebecca mystery is no closer to being solved. I have a bad feeling about her that I can’t shake, and this fans the flames of my need to find Ella. I go ahead and file a missing person’s report and contact the French consulate. After that, Chris and I go home and we don’t leave the apartment the rest of the weekend. We just revel in being together, making love, and watching movies, though we take a trip to the gym, where I just about die re-creating my much-neglected treadmill routine.
Monday morning, we reenter the real world. Chris goes with me to the school, and despite expecting the worst, I am crushed to discover Ella is a no-show. Afterward, we discover she hasn’t paid her rent. We pay it for her and then stop by the police station to update the report with what we’ve discovered.
In an effort to cheer me up, Chris convinces me we should head out Tuesday morning to his godparents’ Sonoma property and attend an art exhibit in the gallery next door. Katie is thrilled, and truth be told, so am I. The feeling of family and belonging is a welcome one. By eight that evening, Chris and I have had dinner, he is painting in his studio, and I am packing for the trip. Chris has yet to unpack from L.A., so I open his suitcase to begin pulling out what isn’t needed.
After I remove the dirty clothes, my hand settles on a small, clear bag of the paintbrushes he autographs, and I stop. There was one of these in Rebecca’s keepsake box—but he said he barely knew her. Why would she have kept one? I pull one of the brushes from the bag and stare at it with a frown.
Chris appears in the doorway. “Do you know where I put—” He pauses. “What’s wrong?”
I get up and go to the closet. “I have a question for you.” I flip on the light and drop to my knees in front of the safe. “What’s the combination?”
“What’s going on, Sara?”
“You’ll see in a minute. The combination?”
He tells me the numbers and I dial the lock. Yanking open the door, I grab the box I’d found in Rebecca’s unit, retrieve the brush inside, and hold it up for Chris to see. “Why does Rebecca have your paintbrush in her keepsake box?” Then I grab the torn photo and pop to my feet to show that to him, too. “And do you know anything about this photo?”
He sighs. “The picture was taken at a charity event, with me and Mark. That was before he and I had a falling-out.”
He nods. “The night after the charity event, I was at the club when a buzz was going on about Mark and his new sub, and how she’d cried through a public flogging. I confronted him and told him he’d pushed her too far. He told me to butt out, that he was Master of the club. Since he wouldn’t listen to me, I tried to warn Rebecca away from him.”
I suddenly feel a déjà vu. “Like you warned me.”
“Not like you, Sara. I barely knew her.”
“But you wanted to protect her, like you wanted to do me.”
“Look, I know those journals make you relate to her, but she was nothing like you. She was just a kid, and Mark couldn’t see why that mattered, but it did. She was happy with him that night at the gala, a schoolgirl in love—before he stole that innocence from her. When I warned her off him, she was furious. I’m not surprised she tore me out of the picture. She felt the same way about Mark as your mother did about your father.”
“She kept your brush,” I say flatly.
He shrugs. “I have no idea why. Maybe because it reminded her of that night with Mark.”
I let that sit, then I nod. I can accept that answer, but not his silence before now. “So why wouldn’t you tell me this before? I asked you directly if you knew her. We’ve been looking for her together, Chris.”
“I told you I barely knew her, and that was the truth.”
“But you knew her better than you made me believe,” I say, trying to keep the accusation from my voice, but it’s hard. I don’t understand his silence. “You didn’t tell me you’d seen her at the club, and there were plenty of chances for you to speak up.”
“When you asked me about her, I didn’t want you to know the club existed. I didn’t want you in that part of my life.”
His words hit me hard. I am still raw from him shutting me out of the funeral and his life. Suddenly, I realize this ache inside me isn’t so much about Rebecca as it is about the realization that Chris is still keeping me at an emotional distance, never really letting me inside his life. I am here with him but I am never fully present the way I want to be.