“You were furious with me a few minutes ago,” I say. “Why are you standing here now?”
“I’m not one-dimensional. I can be furious and worried at the same time.”
Unable to squash my intrigue over the unknowns of her past, I agree. “No, you aren’t one-dimensional. Nor are you simply a rich girl who wants to prove something to daddy.”
“Thank you.” She crinkles her brow. “I think.”
We fall into silence, a hum of electricity charging between us. “I still go back to you saying ‘The End’ to me a few minutes ago. You meant it this time, too. That doesn’t translate to you standing here.”
“Neither does much of what you do, where I’m concerned.”
“You’re absolutely right. It doesn’t. What does, though, is sticking to ‘The End.’ What doesn’t is how badly I want to drag you into another room and fuck you right now.”
She shakes her head. “It’s not me you want. It’s someone who’ll sign a contract and be your outlet and bridge to control. You left that bedroom thinking about the impossibility of a reason for Rebecca’s death, beyond your self-blame and guilt. You need that bridge.”
There is banked pain lacing her words, and a hint of the earlier anger I’d seen in her eyes. I could make those things go away by telling her what she’s said isn’t true. I could tell her she’s gotten under my skin. But I don’t even know who the man beneath the surface is right now. I’ve destroyed two women. Crystal doesn’t deserve to be number three.
“Is everything okay?” my father asks from the doorway, repeating Crystal’s earlier words.
“Yes,” I say, my gaze lingering on Crystal before I push off the counter, hands going to my hips. “We’re ready to talk to Mom about what’s been going on.”
“We are?” Crystal asks, sounding surprised. “Tonight?”
“We can’t risk her finding out from somewhere else,” I explain.
“She’d feel betrayed,” my father adds.
Crystal gives a choppy nod. “Yes. I can see that. But I am not looking forward to telling her.”
“None of us are,” my father says. “Right now, though, she wants us all to eat together. And since it’s the best chance we have of getting some food down her, I say we wait until after we’ve finished. I don’t want to jeopardize her appetite.”
“I’m all for getting food down her,” I say. “She’s skin and bones.”
“I’ve been force-feeding her what she does eat,” Crystal adds. “The nurse suggested some high-calorie protein shakes. I tried that, but she hates them.”
My father starts to turn, then pauses. “By the way, Crystal, Larry Prescot called me just before you got here. You won him over. Thanks for calming him down before he got to Dana.”
He disappears into the hallway and I grab Crystal’s arm. “How okay is Prescot?”
“How can you be sure?”
“I threw out my father’s name—something that I normally would never do.”
“I was on the phone with my father when the receptionist buzzed to tell me that Prescot had arrived for our meeting. My father overheard and insisted that I drop his name. I reminded him that I’m adamant about succeeding on my own merits. But I’m also not one to foolishly ignore resources when backed into a corner, and I was. Prescot was being a total jerk. I knew we were about to lose the business.”
“So you broke your rule.”
“I did. And it was an amazing turnaround. Prescot suddenly remembered the many ways people have tried to paint him as a monster in the media, and became sympathetic rather than judgmental. I called my father afterward, and it turns out that Prescot enjoys the benefits of his secretary beyond her exceptional organizational skills, and his wife of twenty years doesn’t know.”
“But your father does.”
“Yes. And now, so do we.”
My lips curve. “Sounds like I owe you and your father a thank-you.”
“All you’d get in return from my father is a demand that I quit my job. He hates me working for anyone but him, especially now with all this bad press.”
“Is he afraid it will overflow to him?”
“No. He’s afraid I’ll get hurt.”
Me too, I think. Me too. “And what did you tell him?”
“I told him I’m his daughter, not his possession. He doesn’t own me any more than you do, and neither of you gets to claim responsibility for my happiness. That’s all mine.”
As she leaves the room, I stare after her in silent agreement. I’m not responsible for her happiness. But I’m not going to be responsible for her misery, either.
* * *
Twenty minutes later, my mother has told us all about her treatment and recited several dirty jokes one of the techs told her to calm her down, one of which doesn’t please me. “I’m going to have to defend your honor and punch this guy tomorrow.”
“Oh please,” my mother says, waving me off. “It’s funny.”
My father snorts. “I gave up defending your mother’s honor after the car mechanic incident when I was out of town.”
“What’s the car mechanic incident?” Crystal asks.
“You’ll never look at my mother the same way if we tell you,” I say.