“I don’t feel guilty for killing him, Sara. I saw his eyes. I saw how coldhearted he was. What eats me alive is not killing him before he killed them.”
I’m across the seat and linging my arms around him before he inishes, tears streaming down my cheeks. “I’m so sorry I did this to you. I’m so sorry. Chris, I—”
He kisses me. “Don’t. Don’t say you’re sorry. I should have just told you. I should—”
I kiss him, tasting the salty tang of my tears on both our lips, and I can’t stop touching him. His face. His hair. Our foreheads come together and I press my hand to his cheek. “I love you. I love you so much. How could you think I would judge you for this?”
“I killed a sixteen-year-old and I don’t feel guilty, Sara.”
I lean back to look at him. “You put it in a box, Chris, and it’s locked away. You only have so much capacity. It’s your mind’s way of surviving what you can’t control. You saved Amber’s life and your own. You’re a hero. You’re a hero in so many ways and you never see it. But I do. I see it for both of us.”
I have to swallow against the churn of my stomach. “And I hate that I drank tonight, when I promised you I wouldn’t get drunk again. I hate that I still can’t shake it, and think of all the right things to say to ix everything I did wrong tonight.”
He frames my face with his hands and stares down at me.
“You did nothing wrong tonight. You tried to help Amber and she played a game with you and us. And I let that happen by staying silent too long.”
“I did many things wrong tonight, Chris, but more than anything, I should have let you tell me everything next week when you were ready. I know this wasn’t about secrets, now.
It was about how you deal with things, about you limiting the temptation of the whip by choosing how, when, and where you told me everything. I don’t know how to make this up to you. I don’t know how I ever can.”
“Tell me you can live with what I can’t some days. Tell me you know me and you won’t doubt me anymore.”
“I can’t live without you, Chris, and no more doubt. Not ever again.”
He studies me a moment and then leans back against the seat, and pulls me close. I rest my head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat, sensing he has more to say, this time waiting until he is ready.
“I wasn’t in love with Amber before the mugging,” he says softly after a few moments. “I knew we didn’t have a future, but after that night I couldn’t leave her. She resented me, though, and between her resentment and my guilt, I got pretty f**ked up. That’s when things got extreme for me and when Isabel came into the picture. I wanted pain and Isabel gave it to me.”
I lean up to look at him. “While you were with Amber?”
“No sex. Just pain. And Amber knew. She also resented the fact that I didn’t trust her with a whip in her hand. She hated me. That’s not someone you want punishing you.”
“She loves you.”
“Ah, yes. A ine line, isn’t it? She’s very confused, Sara. And Tristan loves the hell out of her.”
“He whips her horribly. That isn’t love.”
“Isabel whips her. Tristan refuses to do it.”
“Yes. Isabel. When I wouldn’t stop seeing her, Amber decided she’d escape reality the same way I did.”
“With the whip.”
“Yes. Just another reason for me to feel guilty. She’s followed me down the wrong path.”
Chris did this to me. Now I know what Amber had meant that day in The Script.
“That’s when I knew we were destroying each other,” Chris continues. “I broke things of with Amber, told her we’d always be friends. But not before I helped her self-destruct, just like Mark did Rebecca.”
“You didn’t,” I say quickly. “She made her choices. We all do.”
“She’s not as strong as you, Sara. I inluenced Amber in ways I can’t undo. But when Tristan came into the picture a few years ago, I was hopeful that maybe Amber was inally moving on. It didn’t happen, and Tristan says that’s my fault. He says Amber will never be able to move on until I do.
“He doesn’t understand why I can’t just cut the ties. He doesn’t understand the guilt, shame, and responsibility I feel over everything to do with how Amber’s life has turned out.”
He runs a rough hand through his hair. “And maybe I should. I just don’t know.”
I want to tell him all the reasons he shouldn’t hurt like he does, but my gut tells me that isn’t what he wants to hear right now. So instead, I say, “I don’t know either, but we’ll igure it out. Together, Chris. Together we’ll ind the answer.”
His arm wraps around my waist. “This is why I didn’t want you around Tristan. I didn’t know what he’d tell you, and I wasn’t sure he wouldn’t use you to hurt me, like Amber tried to tonight.”
“But he called you to come and get me.”
“Yes, and I was sure he was setting me up and I’d ind you in some compromising position sure to rip my heart out.”
“You doubted me, then, too.”
“I didn’t know what they’d told you or made you believe about me, Sara. I didn’t know if Amber told you about her parents.
Or if she convinced people to lie and say I frequented that place.