His reply is slow, his expression shuttered, closed off from me the way he is. “Yeah, well, this time I got protecting you right. Apparently I haven’t done so well in other cases.”
“That’s not true. I just—”
“Had to hear the truth from Mark because you didn’t believe it from me. I know. I get that.”
“You didn’t tell me about Rebecca until I discovered it on my own.”
“I get that, too, but what I can’t seem to get is the fact that you were willing to take his word over mine.” He scrubs his jaw and rests his elbows on his knees. “You say I shut you out when life gets hard. Well, you seem to run to Mark.”
“No, Chris. It’s not like that. Not even close to that.”
“You want honesty, Sara. I’m giving it to you. I knew you’d go to him. That’s why I let you leave the apartment so easily. And I swore if you went to him, it was over between us.”
I am weak all over, trembling from the possibility that he means this. “No, Chris. Mark has nothing to do with us. It hurt that you hadn’t told me everything about Rebecca, and I was still raw over last week.”
“I know. I know, Sara. We are just so damn good at hurting each other.”
“What are you saying?” The question comes out barely there, my voice lodged in my throat with my heart.
“I don’t know what I’m saying. I know I died a thousand deaths tonight when I thought Ava was going to shoot you. I would have died for you tonight; that’s how much I love you.”
“But sometimes love isn’t enough,” I say, repeating his words from back at the club. “Is that where we’re at again?”
“I’m not sure I’m the one who has to answer that question this time, Sara. I think you do.”
“What does that even mean?”
“Excuse me.” I look up to find a police officer at the back of the vehicle and will him away but it doesn’t work. “Ms. McMillan, if you’re up to it, we’d like you to come inside to answer some questions.”
“Of course. Now?”
“That would be the preference.”
Chris climbs out of the ambulance and offers me his hand. I slide my palm in his and warmth spreads up my arm, but the space between us, the damn space, is thick and cold, and I fear it is becoming more impenetrable by the second. I don’t want to leave him. I want the people to go away and leave us alone.
The EMT reappears and eyes Chris. “We’re ready to roll on to the hospital, if you are?”
“Yeah,” Chris says. “I’m ready.” His eyes meet mine and hold a moment. “I’m going to get my head stitched up.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“You need to answer the questions they want answered, and get tonight behind you and us. Stay here. Do what they need you to do.”
I cling to the word us, but I know how broken we are. I know how close we are to losing each other, how abnormal it is for Chris to not insist on being by my side for this. My throat constricts. “Right. Okay.” I turn to the officer. “I’m ready.” I don’t look at Chris again since I know that if I do, I won’t walk away. For the first time since meeting him, I wonder if he might be relieved if I did.
An hour after Chris left for the hospital, I’m done with the police questioning and I step outside Mark’s house. A flicker of movement draws me to the shadowy area of the yard, to the tree Ava had crashed into, and I find Mark resting against it. His head is bowed low, his arms resting on his knees, and it’s clear this isn’t the composed, controlled Mark I’ve come to expect.
After a moment of hesitation, I join him and settle onto the ground beside him. His head lifts and I’m shocked at what he allows me to see. Pain. Torment. Blame.
“She came back because I asked her to,” he tells me.
“What?” I ask, but then it hits me what he means. I remember Blake saying Rebecca came home and just disappeared.
“I called Rebecca while she was on her vacation with the guy she took off with, and told her to come back. That things would be different. She told me no.” He shoves a rough hand into his hair and curses. “I thought she shut me out. I never even knew she came back into town. I brought her back here, and Ava did God knows what to her. I’m the reason she’s dead.”
“Don’t do this to yourself.” I go to my knees to face him. “You didn’t do this. You aren’t responsible for what Ava did.”
He fixes me with a haunted stare. “I am. You don’t know just how f**king responsible I am. I threw Rebecca and Ava together at the club. I included Ava in play. I—” His voice breaks off and he looks away sharply. “Rebecca was . . .” Seconds tick by and abruptly he is staring at me again. “I caused this, and I almost did the same thing to you. I would have, if not for Chris. You and I both know it’s true. Go home, Sara. Get as far away from me as you can.”
The order is rough and razor sharp, but I don’t move. I want to help him. “Mark—”
I know then that he has to deal with his demons in his own way, like I’ve had to deal with mine. I push to my feet and stare down at him, but he isn’t looking at me and I know he won’t again. I walk to my car. Once I’m inside, I start the engine, but I’m not sure what to do with myself. Chris had said he’d vowed we’d be over if I came here tonight. Did he mean it? I’ve heard nothing from him, but I love him too much to have much pride right now.