I sink back against the counter and replay her journal entry that I’d dreamed about. I try to swim to the surface but the trolley is over me, shoving me down, down, down. . . . I cannot get to the surface. I cannot breathe. And my mother is nowhere. She is just gone. Like me.
• • •
Chris and I sleep late on Saturday morning, and wake with coffee on the patio overlooking the Palisades Mountains and our own vineyard. David and Blake assure us they’ll call if they have news, and Chris convinces me to try to let it go and enjoy the day. By two o’clock, Chris and I head to the garage to make our date with Katie and Mike at their winery. Since shopping is on the menu for Katie and me, I’ve gone casual dressy in dark navy jeans and a rich emerald silk blouse, with adorable boots I bought in Paris. Chris wears an “Imagine Dragons” T-shirt paired with black jeans and biker boots, which he makes look hotter than any cover of GQ magazine.
At the chateau, Mike and Chris take off to tour some changes to the vineyard, while Katie and I spend a fun girls’ afternoon at the local specialty stores shopping for a dress.
By early evening, the four of us have met up at the chateau for dinner before the jeweler arrives to talk about my ring. And we do dinner in amazing style, in a private dining room that’s complete with a dungeon door, a round stone table, and dimly lit lanterns on the concrete walls. My pleasure is dimmed only by the huge centerpiece of freshly cut roses. I can’t escape those flowers. They haunt me.
Somehow I manage to enjoy the fabulous four-course meal. We’ve just finished cheesecake and coffee when one of the waitstaff whispers to Katie and she announces, “The jeweler is here. Are we allowed to stay and see the design?”
Chris glances at me and I nod. “Yes. Of course.”
A few minutes later, Everett, a tall, dark, curly-haired man who is as renowned for his craft as Chris is his, has joined us at the table, and begins measuring my ring size.
“Done,” he says, after logging sizes for each of my fingers, though I have no idea why. “We are ready to design you a gorgeous ring.”
Chris opens the sketch pad sitting on the table and slides it in front of Everett. Katie and Mike crane their necks to see the draft, but Everett picks it up and studies it long and hard. “Ah, Mr. Merit,” he says finally. “It’s spectacular, an absolute original I would be honored to design. Let’s talk about the stones.” He sets down the draft and reaches for a booklet of his own to show me images of jewels.
“I’d rather Chris pick,” I say, glancing at him. “I want it to be your vision. That’s what makes it special to me.”
“I want you to love it,” he insists.
“It’s a Chris Merit original,” I say, determined to get past the way the roses remind me of Rebecca. “I already love it.”
Katie slides the sketch over to look at it, then makes a slight sobbing sound that draws my gaze. “Roses,” she whispers. “For your mother.”
Chris’s expression turns solemn and he nods. “Yes. For my mother.”
“It’s a wonderful gesture, son,” Mike adds.
My brows dip and I glance at Chris. “I don’t understand.”
He stands. “Walk with me and I’ll explain.”
“I’m sorry,” Katie says. “Did I give it away?”
“Nothing to be sorry about,” Chris assures her and then glances at Everett. “Can you leave the stone charts?”
“Of course. And I have what I need for the other project we discussed as well.”
“Excellent,” Chris says. “Thank you.”
Mike and Katie stand. “We’ll show you out,” Mike tells the jeweler.
The three of them leave the room and Chris offers me his hand. “Let’s grab our jackets and go outside,” he says, and there’s a raspy timbre to his voice, an emotional quality to his energy that he normally reserves for those intimate moments when everything between us combusts and explodes.
I twine my fingers with his. “Yes,” I say. “Let’s go outside.”
A few minutes later we walk hand in hand across a small brick walkway to a wooden bridge that arches over a large pond. The same bridge we’d stood on the night he’d confessed his father’s drinking problem to me. Just like that night, there’s a glow from the orange lanterns dangling from poles mounted in the wooden rails, and stars dot the black, cloudless canvas above.
As he had then, Chris leads me over the bridge toward a gazebo, and I catch the sweet scent of roses, their stems entwining in the wooden overhang, delicate buds clinging to the leaves. Once we’re in the gazebo, he leans on the railing and folds me against him. “Look up.”
We tilt our heads and look up at the blossoms quilted like a beautiful blanket above us. “This is where I’d like to get married,” he says, drawing my gaze to his. “Right here, under the roses my mother helped Katie plant.”
My heart squeezes. “Your mother?”
“Yes. She convinced Katie that everything was better with roses. She loved them. Katie cuts at least one fresh flower every evening in her memory.” He laughs, a tinge of sadness in it. “Or she picks a ridiculously impossible blossom, and makes Mike find a way to reach it for her.”
I tear up with the deep feelings this stirs inside me: memories of my own mother, of reading about Rebecca’s heartache after losing hers. “That’s why they both smelled like roses last night.”