My father had been clear in his teachings. You only allowed someone to push you to a certain point, then you pushed back. Stood up for yourself, first with your words, then your fists if the words weren’t effective. I had used his words against this liar. Asserted myself clearly before using violence.
The fists. I had enjoyed using the fists. I looked at the still woman beneath me and almost hoped she called me Brant again. Crawling off of her, I looked at my hands, ignoring the moan from behind me. I have blood on my hands. Someone else’s blood. A first for me. I brushed them off on my pants, realizing too late, that my mother would be upset by the streaks of red against the tan fabric. Then I head for the door, certain that somewhere nearby there will be a TV. And I had almost two hours to watch before my mother would be here to pick me up.
I climbed the unfamiliar set of stairs and smiled, certain my father would be proud.
Brant finishes the story, torment ripping vulnerability through his eyes and for a moment I think he’s going to cry. Break in front of me. I grip his hand, bring it to my mouth. “Brant, it wasn’t you. You know that.”
“What I just saw… where I just went… that was me. Me peering into another world that makes no rhyme or reason. I did that. I hit her over and over, like she was an object, a game. My mother…” His voice drops and his hand comes up, pinches the skin between his eyes. “My mother came home and found me on the couch, watching television, eating popcorn, with f**kin’ blood on my hands.” He lets out a hiss. “I remember that. Like it was me, even though it wasn’t. Why am I suddenly remembering that? After twenty-seven years of nothing.”
“Do you know Lee? Remember anything of him?” I am almost scared of the answer. Of Brant’s reaction to Lee’s memories.
He shakes his head. “No. I have… nothing, Lana. One memory, that’s it. That’s enough. After that, I don’t want any more.”
I squeeze his hand and release it. “Let’s go inside. Stop thinking for a bit and let me baby you.”
Anna has earned every bit of her salary. We walk into a house that smells of food and home, the staff fading into unobtrusive corners upon our arrival. Brant sits down at the kitchen table, silence falling over the room as he puts away a crabmeat omelet and two waffles. He avoids my eyes, his stare on the food before him. When he finishes, he stands with a quiet cough, wiping his mouth with a linen napkin. “Please tell Christine thank you for the breakfast.”
“I will. Anna drew a bath if you’d like one.”
“I think I’ll take a shower instead.”
Any thought I have of settling into hot bubbles with him disappears. I nod, smile. “Of course.”
Suddenly strangers, two lovers awkward in their own home. I don’t know what to say to him and he seems embarrassed, all over a fact I have known for two years. I want to hug him. I want to pull out his fears and lay them to rest. Kiss him and tell him I will always love him. But he steps, moves, speaks—all with a cloud around him, one that screams ‘Don’t touch!’. I stay in place and watch him head for the bedroom.
As I reach for his plate, Anna scurries around the corner. “Let me get those, Ms. Fairmont.”
“Thank you.” I drop my hand. “Did you reach the doctor?”
“Yes, she’ll be here within the hour.”
“Can you show her to the master suite when she arrives?”
“Thank you.” Having no more purpose in the kitchen, I walk to the bedroom, easing open the door quietly before stepping inside. The lights are off, the only illumination the dawn, dim over the Pacific. Behind me, the crackle of the fire takes the chill out of the air. I enter the bathroom, check to see that towels are heating, my eyes pulling to the fogged glass of the shower.
I stare at the glass, trying to guess what this man wants. Coming up blank, I pull off my clothes, leaving them on the marble floors, and step into the shower.
The shower is a cloud of fog, the hand before me hidden by a mist of white. I stumble through the steam, my feet feeling their way across the stone floor until I hit the warm body of Brant, his skin jumping underneath my touch. I say nothing, only step closer, into the hot spray, my arms wrapping around his body, my head resting on his wet chest.
“I’m not very good company right now,” he mutters, his hands sliding down and around me, a hard hug squeezing me into his chest.
“You’re always good company.” I stand on my tiptoes, pressing a soft kiss on his lips, my first attempt missing as our movement clashes.
“I’m so lost right now, Lana,” he whispers.
“You have me. Together, we’ll never be lost.”
“I have you for how long? You aren’t going to want to put up with this.”
I run my hands up his arms and across his shoulders, my hands ending up where I wanted them: cupping his face. “Forever. I’ve been telling you that for years, Brant. Years in which I knew about your condition. Years I’ve loved you through. I don’t love you despite this. I love you, including this. Every part of you, even parts you don’t know.”
He growls, his chest vibrating against me. “That drives me crazy. I’m jealous of him, you know that?” His gruff tone holds an edge of possession, and I smile, glad he can’t see me.
“Yes, Lee.” He says the name like it is dirty.
“It’s a mutual dislike. He’s extremely jealous of you.”
“He is?” The shock in Brant’s voice makes me chuckle.
“Are you kidding? The billionaire who spends his nights with my sexy ass? Of course he’s jealous. He knows how much I love you, even if you are blind to it.”
He lowers his mouth to me and I feel our connection return, a righting of the balance between our souls. “This is why, right? Why you won’t marry me?”
I swallow. Run my hands down his chest and around his back, bringing my mouth to his skin and kissing the line of his collarbone. “It was why I wouldn’t marry you. Because of my lies, the secrets I kept from you because of it. I didn’t think you deserved a wife with a secret.”
He lowers a hand until it cups my ass. Squeezes it lovingly. “And now?”
I pull away enough to look up, into the steam where I can barely make out the features of his face. “And now… there are no more lies. Not from me.”
His entire body freezes in that moment, skin tightening, rigidity forming, my hands and body feeling the change. When he speaks, it is only his lips that move. “Are you saying… that now…” his voice drops, vulnerability carrying through the whisper of his words… “that you’ll marry me? With me like this?”