“She didn’t believe the traic thing,” Chris says.
I shake my head. “Not for a second.” To get his mind of the bad stuf, I start asking questions about our trip. We spend the rest of the hour drive talking about the amazing forest surrounding Fontainebleau, which, with its towering trees, is nature’s artwork, and about the château his parents bought as a vacation home when he was a small child, even before he moved to Paris with his father. But no matter how I try to keep him talking, the closer we get to our destination, the quieter Chris becomes.
When inally we pull up to the secluded, several-acre property, I’m blown away by what looks like a medieval castle. It’s more the size of a hotel than a house, with steepled points to its rooftops and towering white stone walls, set in the middle of short, sloping hilltops.
“It’s amazing, Chris,” I say, turning to ind him staring at it as if he’s never seen it before.
“I don’t get out here much, so I have a lady and her young daughter, who live in the property behind the house, look after it for me.” He glances at me. “Grab your jacket. I want to show you something before we go inside.”
I slide my coat on and Chris walks around the 911 to open my door. He helps me out and slides his arm around my shoulders, his big body sheltering me from the cool day. I think he has something in his other hand, held down by his side, but I can’t tell what. I’m about to ask what it is but he points to a hill under a massive, lealess tree with huge draping branches, which I’m sure is gorgeous in full bloom. As we get closer, my stomach clenches as I discover we’re about to visit not one, but two graves.
I don’t say anything. I’m not sure what to say, and if I talk too much, Chris won’t have a chance to say what he needs to say. Today is about listening, or just being silent by his side, if that’s what he needs.
Under the tree by the graves, Chris sets down the item in his hands—a bottle of wine and a corkscrew. He is one big, dark storm cloud ready to burst, and I prepare myself for the downpour, complete with plenty of lightning and thunder.
After shrugging out of his coat, he spreads it out on the ground and motions for me to sit. Glad I have on my favorite worn, faded jeans, I scoot over to allow him to share my seat.
Chris opens the wine, sits on the cold ground beside me, and then gulps a big swig of wine right from the bottle. “Have some,” he says, ofering it to me. “It’s one of my father’s prized ten-thousand-dollar bottles. Good stuf. Don’t waste it.”
Knowing this is signiicant for him, I accept the bottle and chug some wine. The light, sweet lavor explodes on my tongue, and it would be delicious if it weren’t laced with the bitterness of his father drinking himself to death, after years of shutting his son out of his life.
Chris takes another long drink and ofers me one, as well. I hold up my hand. “No, thanks.” I just can’t stomach it.
“There’s something else I haven’t told you,” he says.
In his eyes, I read that the “something else” is big. I grab the bottle and tip it back, then hand it back to him.
“The accident that killed my mother happened a few miles from here.” He slugs more wine, then lies back on the ground, the bottle in one hand, his other arm over his eyes. “And I was in the car.”
My breath lodges in my throat. He’d been a small child.
Much too small to have to watch his mother die. I’d barely handled the loss of mine as an adult.
“A truck hit us,” he continues. “The man driving had a diabetic attack and blacked out. He crossed the lane and hit us head-on. Metal rammed through the windshield.” He pauses, his breathing ragged. “I was in the backseat in a seat belt, and both myself and my father were remarkably unharmed—but I remember the glass and the blood. I should have been too young to remember, but I do. In bloody, vivid, f**king color, I remember my mother bleeding, and my father screaming and crying and begging her to breathe.”
Tears streak my cheeks and I wipe them away. As the seconds tick by, Chris doesn’t move. He lies there, his hand over his face, that bottle of wine in his hand. And I know that there is no right thing to say—there is only what I do.
I push to my feet and take his hand. “Get up, and come with me.”
His hand drops from his face and I can see the redness in his eyes, the tears he’s hidden from me. I don’t want him to hide anything from me. “Where are we going?” he asks.
“We’re going inside.” I tug his hand. “I have something to show you.”
“Inside?” He doesn’t move. “Where you have never been before.”
“That’s right. Come on.”
“All right,” he agrees, and, thankfully, he hefts himself up to his feet, takes a swig of the wine, and throws the bottle away across the open hilltop. “Show me what you want to show me.”
There is curiosity in his eyes.
Curious is good. It’s far better than pain. This is working.
We cross the hilly lawn and head to the door. Chris’s big body is tense as he unlocks the door and waves me forward.
The spacious entry is paved with stone, and my gaze sweeps the stairwell to the left. A wooden balcony wraps around an upper level that spans the entire room, and I admire the incredible chandelier suspended from the center of the vaulted ceiling.
When Chris shuts the door, I step directly in front of him.
“Undress,” I command.