“Every time I sit down to face that canvas, I think it’s going to be shit.”
“And yet you turn wildflowers into roses.”
He steps closer to me, his hands settling under my jacket, on my hips. “Triggers. We talked about triggers.”
“Yes,” I say. “And your father is a trigger.”
“Yes,” he confirms, releasing me and turning away, resting his hands on the gazebo railing. I move to stand beside him, and wait. “When I was growing up,” he finally says, “I convinced myself that my father started drinking excessively to forget the accident. But I kept having this nightmare about the accident.” He glances at me. “The one I had two nights ago. I’ve told myself over and over that it means nothing. I was five. How can I remember anything?”
“But you do, Chris. You’ve told me about that day.”
“I was five, Sara. I can’t remember.” His voice cracks, and there is a desperateness to his tone, like he doesn’t want to face something.
“I don’t know if I should encourage you to tell me right now, or urge you to put it behind you.”
“In thirty years, if I haven’t put it behind me, I’m not going to.”
“Then tell me.”
“Katie said we should have my father’s favorite wine at the wedding, and honor his love of the grape.” There’s bitterness in the way he exaggerates the word love. “That statement, innocent as it was, became my trigger.” He dips his chin, lowering his head a moment, and I can hear him take several breaths. “I remember him drinking. I remember him drinking all the time. And I remember, that night in the car”—he pauses—“I remember him leaning over her body, and grabbing a bottle that he threw as far as he could out of the window.” He looks at me, his eyes pained. “I think he was drunk that night—and he knew that I saw. I think he hated that I knew. He didn’t know if I remembered, but the idea that I might made him hate me as much as he hated himself. So he made both of our lives hell. I don’t want that fucking wine at our wedding.”
For the second time tonight, tears well in my eyes. “Then we won’t have it at our wedding.” I look up at him. “Tell Katie and Mike.”
“No, baby. I’m not telling them.”
“I don’t know for sure. But my bitterness does nothing to help anyone. Just being able to finally say this to someone else I trust helps the most.”
“I’m going to tell Katie that we had a certain champagne the night you proposed, and that if it won’t offend her, I want to have it instead.”
He shakes his head. “They couldn’t have kids. They tried, then they adopted and lost that boy in a boating accident. I became their son. And that wine made this winery. It’s the connection that brought us together. I’m okay with the wine. It’s my father I have the problem with. And he’s gone, and they aren’t.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’m sure.” He drapes his arm over my shoulders and we walk across the bridge to return to the chateau, and I’m touched by how selfless this man can be. He has money and power and fame, but he never thinks about only himself.
We enter the dining room to find Katie and Mike still sitting at the table, worry on their faces. Chris and I take off our coats again and sit down.
“Everything okay?” Katie asks.
“Yes,” Chris replies. “I just had a little walk down memory lane.”
“Memories aren’t always easy,” Mike replies.
“No,” Chris agrees, “but they make us stronger.”
I’m reminded of what he told me about Chantal, about how we’re the sum of our broken pieces.
Chris lifts his glass. “Let’s toast.” Everyone lifts their glass, and he says, “To making roses—”
“Out of wildflowers,” Katie finishes.
Just You and Me
The weeks before the wedding pass in a blink of an eye, despite a brief window of harassment by the press. Chris and I spent the time at home and around San Francisco, especially in “our” window corner of Diego and Maria’s Mexican restaurant, while Chris sketches and I work. Maria’s son Diego is back from Paris as well, nursing a broken heart, and his mother is determined to help him mend with comfort food. She’s also determined to fatten me up before the wedding, and I certainly don’t lose any weight.
Now, on the eve of the wedding, I wake up alone in the bed of the rental house, certain Chris is already in the kitchen drinking coffee. It’s become our ritual for him to wake early and start the coffee, be it here, back at the apartment in San Francisco, or in Paris, and for me to join him when it’s ready.
Entering the kitchen, I find Chris leaning on the marble countertop by the coffeepot, shirtless and in his pajama bottoms, the long strands of his blond hair a wild, sexy mess I’m pretty sure I created last night.
He glances up from the paper he’s reading, then picks up his coffee cup. “Morning, Ms. McMillan.”
“Morning, Mr. Merit,” I reply, grinning as I join him.
He offers me his coffee cup and I happily accept it, taking a drink of the perfectly flavored coffee and creamer. Sharing a cup with Chris has this sexy, intimate feel to it that always does funny things to my belly.
“Your last day as a free woman,” he comments.