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He spoke to me briefly, offering his condolences. He’d liked my mother and often was somewhat indulgent about her neurotic behavior, to my frustration. I could tell he was affected by her loss, which made me wonder how I came across to him. Evidently, he couldn’t quite tell. I struggled to answer his questions about how I was doing.

He talked with Gideon for a much longer time, retreating with my husband to the dining room, where they spoke in hushed tones.

But not for long. Gideon turned toward me and I understood their talk was over. I accompanied Dr. Petersen to the foyer and saw him out, but not before I spotted my clutch on an end table.

When I retrieved my phone, I saw the dozens of missed calls and texts. Megumi, Will, Shawna, Dr. Travis … even Brett. I opened my messages and started to send out replies when the phone vibrated in my hand with an incoming call. I saw the name of the caller, looked up at Cary and found him talking with my dad, then headed down the hall to the bedroom.

Through the slender windows, I could see how far the afternoon had progressed. It would be dark in a few hours and the first day without my mom would be over.

“Hi, Trey.”

“Eva. I … I probably shouldn’t be intruding at a time like this, but I saw the news and I was calling you before I thought about it being a bad idea. I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am.”

I took a seat in one of the reading chairs, refusing to think about what the headlines might be shouting right now. “I appreciate you thinking of me.”

“I can’t believe what happened. If there’s anything I can do, please let me know.”

I let my heavy head fall back against the seat and closed my eyes. I recalled Trey’s handsome face, his kind hazel eyes and the little bump on his nose that told me it’d once been broken. “Look, Trey, I don’t want to lay a guilt trip on you, but you should know that my mother meant a lot to Cary. She was like a surrogate mom to him. He’s really hurting a lot right now.”

He sighed. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“I meant to call you … before.” I curled my legs up beneath me. “To see how you’re doing, but also—well, there’s more. I wanted to tell you that I know you have to do what’s best for you. That said, if you’re thinking at all that you might want something with Cary, you should make up your mind quickly. The door is closing.”

“Let me guess. He’s seeing someone,” he said flatly.

“No, just the opposite. He’s taking some time for himself and reevaluating what he wants. You know he broke it off with Tatiana, right?”

“That’s what he says.”

“If you don’t trust him to tell the truth, it’s good you broke things off.”

“I’m sorry.” He made a low frustrated noise. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Cary’s healing, Trey. Pretty soon, he’s going to be ready to move on. It’s just something you need to think about.”

“All I’ve done is think about it. I still don’t know what the answer is.”

I rubbed the space between my brows. “Maybe you’re asking the wrong question. Are you happier with him or without him? Figure that out and I think the rest will become clear.”

“Thank you, Eva.”

“For what it’s worth, you and I kinda took the same route. Gideon and I always said we were going to make it work, but that was … I don’t know …” I searched through my brain fog. “Bravado. Stubbornness. That was part of our problem, we knew it was a house of cards. We weren’t taking the steps to make us solid. Does that make sense?”

“Yeah.”

“But we both made big changes, just like Cary has for you. And big concessions.”

I felt my husband enter the room and opened my eyes.

“It was worth it, Trey,” I said softly. “It’s not wishful thinking anymore. We’ll still hit bumps, people will throw us some curve balls, but when we say we’re going to get through anything, it’s nothing but the truth.”

“You’re telling me to give Cary another chance.”

I reached out to Gideon, felt a soft stirring in my chest as he came to me. “I’m saying I think you’ll like the changes he’s made. And if you meet him halfway, you might find it’s worth the trip.”

Chris left for the evening shortly after six to have dinner with Christopher. For some reason, he and Gideon exchanged a long look as my husband showed him out. I let it go without asking for an explanation. Their relationship had shifted. The wariness they used to regard each other with was gone. There was no way I was going to question it or make Gideon think too hard about it. It was time for him to make some decisions with his heart.

My dad and Cary left around nine, heading back to my old apartment, since there was room for both of them there and not enough in the penthouse.

Would my dad stay in the bedroom where he’d last made love to my mother? How would he bear it, if he did? When Gideon and I had been apart, I’d had to stay at Stanton’s. My room had too many memories of Gideon and the last thing I needed was to be tormented with reminders of what I wanted more than anything, yet feared I couldn’t have.

Gideon went around the penthouse, turning off lights, Lucky following him every step of the way. I watched my husband move, his tread heavier than usual. He was so tired. I had no idea how he’d managed to get through the day, considering how busy he’d been in the morning’s aftermath—coordinating with Kristine, answering the occasional call from Scott, and catching Arash up on the visit with the police.

“Angel.” He held his hand out to me.

I stared at it a moment. All day long, he’d offered me his hand. Such a simple thing, really, but it was powerful. I’m here, it said. You’re not alone. We can do this together.

Rising from my seat on the sofa, I linked my fingers with his and let him lead me to the bedroom and into the bathroom. There, I went through nearly the same routine as he did. Brushing my teeth, washing my face. He added the step of taking one of the pills Dr. Petersen had prescribed. Then I followed him into the bedroom and let him undress me, before sliding another T-shirt over my head. He tucked me in with a soft, slow kiss.

“Where are you going?” I asked, when he walked away.

“Nowhere.” He stripped with brusque efficiency, leaving his boxer briefs on. Then he joined me in bed, helped Lucky scramble up, then turned off the light.

Rolling toward me, he caught me around the waist and pulled me back against him, spooning behind me. I moaned softly at the heat of his body and shivered as it combated the chill in my bones.

I closed my eyes, focusing on the sound and feel of him breathing. Within a few moments, the tempo fell into the rhythmic evenness of sleep.

The wind whips through my hair as I walk along the shore, my feet sinking into the sand as the surf erodes every step. Ahead of me, I see the weathered shingles of the beach house Gideon bought for us. It sits perched above the tide on tall stilts, its many windows gazing far out over the water. Gulls circle and cry out above me, their quick dips and arrested hovering like a dance in the salt-tinged breeze.

“I can’t believe I’m going to miss the reception.”

I turn my head and discover my mother walking beside me. She’s wearing the same elegant formal gown I last saw her in. She’s so beautiful. Truly breathtaking. My eyes burn to look at her.

“We’re all going to miss it,” I tell her.

“I know. And I worked so hard on it.” She glances at me, the ends of her hair fluttering along her cheek. “I did manage to work some touches of red in.”

“Did you?” That makes me smile, despite my pain. She does love me the best way she knows how. Just because it’s not always the way I want her to doesn’t mean it’s not precious for what it is.

“It really is a garish color for a wedding, though. It was difficult.”

“It’s kinda your fault, you know, for buying that red dress I wore the first night Gideon took me out as his date.”

“Is that what inspired you?” She shakes her head. “Next time, you should pick a softer accent color.”

“There won’t be a next time. Gideon is it for me.” I pick up a shell, then toss it back into the water it came from. “There were times I wasn’t sure we’d make it, but I don’t worry about that anymore. We were our own worst enemy, but we let go of the baggage weighting us down.”

“The first few months are supposed to be the easy part.” My mom dances a little ahead of me and gives a graceful twirl. “The courtship. Fabulous trips, sparkling jewels.”

I snort. “It wasn’t easy for us. The beginning was the rockiest. But it gets smoother every day.”

“You’ll have to help your father find someone,” she says, the girlish delight faded from her voice. “He’s been lonely for so long.”

“You’re a hard act to follow. He still loves you.”

She shoots me a sad smile, then looks out over the water. “I had Richard … He’s such a good man. I wish he’d be happy again.”

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