He helps me bundle up in a white puffy hoodie and he slips on his Harley jacket, then we step outside as the sun is sinking low in the sky. A bitter cold has rolled in from the south. I shiver as we walk down the stairs and Chris wraps his arm around my shoulder, his hip pressing against mine. We cut to the left, bringing the two large vases I’ve left by the wall into view. Each holds a three foot high cross, one with a dragon etched on it that reads “Amber,” and one with roses etched on it that reads “Rebecca.”

Chris stares down at the crosses, as still as stone.

“You needed closure, and neither of them has had a proper funeral. They deserve to be honored. Since the ground is frozen, I figured we could place them this summer.”

He looks up at me, his green eyes filled with pain. “You’re right. I do need closure, something I usually avoided with a whip.”

He says those words easily, not hiding from the past or from me. He kisses my forehead, then bends down to pick up Amber’s cross. Though it took both me and Chantal to carry each of these before, I reach for Rebecca’s.

“No,” he says. “It’s heavy. I’ll come back for it.”

I nod and walk with him to set Amber’s cross under the giant tree that shades his parents’ grave during the spring and summer. Then we do the same with Rebecca’s.

Chris drapes his arm over my shoulder as silence closes around us but for the rasp of a leaf here or there, and the whistle of the wind. And I can almost hear the two doors closing in the hollow of a cold winter’s eve.

Chris rests his forehead on mine and wraps his arms around me, holding me tightly, as I do him. And I know we are thinking the same thing.

We can’t lose each other.

It’s a fear our pasts have created, one that we’ll never fully escape, but I believe it will give us something so few people have: We will always relish every single moment together.

Trust: You have to have it, to give someone else control. And what is trust? It’s not as simple as that kids’ game when you shut your eyes and fall back and count on a friend to catch you, trusting that they won’t let you fall and get hurt. Trust is more complicated than that. Sometimes there are people around you who deserve it, but don’t get it. It’s that one person who speaks to you on some level. The soul, maybe? And when they do, it’s like a door opens because they had the key to set you free. Then you trust. There’s no real reason. No logic. There’s just your willingness to believe at all costs that they will catch you.

Rebecca Mason

Part Eight

Ella

Five weeks later, Chris and I are returning from our tour of Ireland and Scotland. Rey’s lead on Ella never materialized, and I finally realized that I couldn’t wake up every day expecting that that would change without making myself crazy. I did that for half of our travels, until finally Chris convinced me to embrace life before it’s gone.

The private jet he contracted for our return to Paris changes altitude, our descent a bumpy one. I clamp my hands on the arms of my seat, and Chris closes his hand over mine. “Easy, baby,” he murmurs as we shake and shudder. “It’s just a little turbulence. You know that.”

I glance out the window, hating that I can’t see the ground. “Seriously, Chris. How are you a control freak, yet this doesn’t bother you?”

“I keep telling you, when you can’t control the action, control the emotion.”

The plane jerks and I squeeze my eyes shut. “Easier said than done.”

“That’s why it’s called control. And since you’re a highly successful control freak, I’m certain you can conquer this.”

“I don’t have control. That’s the issue.”

“You give me control.”

“And no one else but you. And you aren’t flying the plane.”

“You choose to give control to me and only me in certain situations. You can choose other times and other ways as well.”

“You demand it and I give it.”

“You can tell me no at any time. You make the choice. Everything, including your fear right now, is a choice.”

“Giving control to you is different than giving control to someone else. You’re my safe place, Chris.” The plane jerks and I gasp, tightening my grip on the arm rests. “I hate this. I hate it so much.”

“Block out the fear,” he commands.

“Just telling me to do it isn’t going to work.”

“What happened to me being your safe place?”

“You aren’t in charge up here.”

“Aren’t I?” he asks, unbuckling his seatbelt to stand up, nearly losing his balance as the plane shudders.

“What are you doing? You’re going to get hurt.”

“I’ll be fine,” he assures me, using the overhead bins as handrails to safely walk several feet to the open curtain between us and the steward’s galley, which he pulls shut.

I’m not sure what I’m more nervous about, his unsteady walk back or whatever he has planned. “What are you up to, Chris Merit?” I demand as he sits back down and buckles up.

He shifts in his seat, lifting the arm rest between us. “Making you relax.” He presses the buttons to lower both our seatbacks.

“Chris, no. I want to see out of the window.” My seat goes flat and his has too, and suddenly Chris is lying down with me, his jean-clad leg hugging my jean-clad leg, his hand on my face.

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