On our way back, Risa released a heavy sigh in the car and relaxed back onto the headrest.
“Were you that nervous?”
She smiled. “Kind of. I’m really glad you came.”
“Me too. We made a good team.”
I held out my hand for a fist bump, which she met with a laugh. I was anxious to keep the mood light and our conversation focused on work. I couldn’t handle any more questions about Mark right now.
“Definitely. Whether this goes through or not, I think I can definitely use this as a stepping stone to connect with some other retailers. Maybe Max has some more connections.”
“Maybe.” I wasn’t sure about overusing Max’s resources, but he seemed willing. I had nothing to lose by letting Risa work her magic with him.
As soon as I got back to the office I slipped into Mocha. I pulled out my laptop and searched the news. Details of the story were slowly being released to the public. I got halfway through the article I was reading when my phone rang, Alli’s face lighting up the screen.
“Hey,” I answered.
“Oh my God, have you been following the news?”
“I’m in shock. Does that seem like him, to just off himself?”
I blinked and stared at the photo of Mark on the screen. A portrait of him taken for the law firm, looking professional and more than ready to take on corporate America. The smile that made me sick to my stomach was plastered all over the news.
“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “I saw him two nights ago at the Spirit Gala. He came onto me, totally freaking me out. I wouldn’t have guessed something like this could have happened.”
“Well, it’s not like you knew him well.”
“You don’t think it has to do with me, do you?”
“Jesus, are you blaming yourself for this, Erica?”
“Okay, you’re going to stop that shit right now. Mark was a terrible person. You should be happy he’s gone and out of your life now. Good riddance.”
“I don’t know. I guess I’m in disbelief.” I had a hard time celebrating anyone’s death, even someone I loathed as much as Mark. Daniel and Margo would probably be beside themselves with grief right now. “Says he didn’t even leave a note. Doesn’t make sense.”
“What would he have written? A confession of all the horrible things he’d done?”
Simone brought over my usual latte without my even asking. I mouthed a thank you to her and stirred it slowly as I contemplated Alli’s words.
“I guess you’re right. I’m still trying to wrap my head around all this.”
“Try to think of it as a chapter in your life closing. You can finally move on now.”
I shook my head, knowing full well that his death could never erase what he’d done to me.
I forced myself to finish writing the Bryant’s contract, though Mark’s death barely left my mind as I pushed through work. I was about to give in and check the news again when Risa popped in.
“How’s it going?” She beamed in front of me.
“Almost done with this. How about you?”
“I was able to book two more meetings with retailers next week.”
“Wow, you’re on fire.” I raised my eyebrows, genuinely impressed.
She smiled broadly, and then her expression became more serious. “Have you been following the news?”
I stayed focused on my screen. “No, what’s new?” I couldn’t help but ask.
“They said he shot himself. His blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit.”
I closed my eyes, fighting the vision of what that scene must have looked like. Of all the ways to attempt to end his life, he chose the one he was guaranteed not to survive.
“Funeral services will be on Sunday. Do you think you’ll go?”
“Risa, I told you I barely knew him,” I snapped. Bloody hell. I really wished she would mind her own goddamn business. I wanted nothing more than to be alone with my thoughts, and she was in the front row trying to read them.
“Okay, sorry. I thought you’d want to know.”
“Now I know, thanks.” I started typing up the last of the terms into my open document, hoping she’d take the hint that I was busy.
She did and left wordlessly. I relaxed again, immediately regretting that I’d been so rude. My head was so messed up, and the one person I really needed wasn’t remotely close.
I waited until after five when everyone had left to call Blake. I heard him talking to someone when he picked up.
“Mark is dead,” I said, my brain working hard to believe the words. I still couldn’t believe it.
There was silence on the line as I waited for him to respond, to ask me how and when. Surely he’d have as many questions as I did. If anyone hated Mark as much as I did, it was Blake.
“What do you mean?”
“I saw it in my news feed. I’m sorry, I wanted to call but I’ve been tied up in meetings all morning. Hang on a second.”
“Okay.” My voice was quiet, my throat tight with emotion. I wanted to be angry with him for not calling, but all I could think about was how much I missed him. The noise was muffled on the other end, and then the voices in the background disappeared.
“Are you okay?” His voice was softer.
I drummed my fingers on the desk, wondering how to put into words how completely not okay I was. “When are you coming home?”
He sighed on the other end. I winced. I was becoming the emotionally dependent girlfriend that he probably really didn’t need. Not to mention the kind I never thought I’d turn into.
“Sorry, just do what you need to do there, Blake. Don’t worry about me, okay? I’m fine.” I bit back the tears that threatened, trying to sound as unaffected as possible.
“I’m coming back as soon as I can.”
“I’m fine,” I repeated, willing both of us to believe it as I wiped away the tear that fell down my cheek. “I’m just kind of a mess right now, but I’ll be fine.”
I heard the voices in the background again and he muttered a curse under his breath. “I’ll call you tonight, okay?”
I hung up and let my head fall into my hands. Why did I need Blake to put me back together? What had changed in these past weeks that I needed him like I needed my last breath? I couldn’t make sense of it, or of the insane thoughts I was having about hopping on the next red-eye to San Francisco to see him.