- The Air He Breathes
“We need to talk,” he said, standing up. His eyes shifted to Tristan before moving back to me. “Now.”
“I don’t want to talk to you,” I said sternly. “Besides, we are leaving in a few minutes to go visit my mom.”
“Is he going with you?” he asked, his voice low.
“Don’t start, Tanner.”
“We have to talk.”
“Tanner, look, I get it. You don’t like that I’m with Tristan, but I am. And we’re happy. I just don’t see why you can’t be—”
“Liz!” he shouted, cutting me off. “I get it, whatever. But I need to talk to you.” His eyes were glassed over and his jaw was tight. “Please.”
I looked at Tristan, who was staring my way, waiting for me to decide my next move. It seemed as if Tanner truly had something to say, something that was eating at him. “Okay. Fine. Let’s talk.” He sighed with relief. I turned to Tristan. “I’ll see you in a few, okay?”
He nodded and kissed my forehead before saying goodbye to me. Tanner followed Emma and me inside, and while Emma went to her room to play with some toys, we stood at the island in the kitchen. My hands gripped the edge of the counter.
“What do you want to talk about, Tanner?”
“I don’t want to talk about him.”
“We have to.”
Breaking away from his stare, I moved to the dishwasher and started to unload it, just to keep busy. “No, Tanner. I’m really sick of all of this. Aren’t you tired of all of this?”
“Do you know what happened to his wife and kid? Do you know how they died?”
“He doesn’t talk about it, and it doesn’t make him an awful person that he doesn’t talk about it. It makes him human.”
“Liz, it was Steven.”
“What was Steven?” I asked, tossing plates into the cabinets.
“The accident with Tristan’s wife and kid. It was Steven. He was the car that drove them off the road.” My throat closed up, and I looked his way. His eyes locked with mine, and as I shook my head. He nodded. “I went digging for information on the guy, and I’ll be honest with you I was just looking for crap to make him out to be a monster. Faye came into my shop and begged me to stop my witch-hunt, because she was certain it would ruin the little friendship I still had left with you, but I had to know what the deal was with this guy. I didn’t find anything. It turns out he’s just a guy who lost his world.”
“But I did find these articles on the accident.” He held the papers out toward me, and I placed my hands over my chest. My heartbeats were erratic, skipping beats and then speeding up whenever it chose to. “When Steven’s car lost control, it slammed into a white Altima. The Altima had three passengers in it.”
“Stop…” I whispered, my right hand cupping over my mouth, my body beginning to shake with horror.
“Sixty-year-old Mary Cole, who walked away from the accident.”
“Tanner, please. Don’t.”
“Thirty-year-old Jamie Cole…”
Tears fell, my insides twisting into knots as he continued speaking. “And eight-year-old Charlie Cole, who both lost their lives.”
Acid began to rise from my stomach and I turned away from him, sobbing uncontrollably into my hands, unable to truly believe what he was telling me. Had Steven been the reason that Tristan lost his world? Had my Steven been the cause of Tristan’s heartbreak?
“You can’t be here right now,” I managed to say. Tanner placed a comforting hand on my shoulder and I slung it off. “I can’t deal with this right now, Tanner. Go.”
He sighed heavily. “I didn’t want you to get hurt, Liz. I swear. But, could you imagine if you both found out later on? Could you imagine if he didn’t know until you two were in too deep?”
I turned to face him. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, you two can’t stay together after this. There’s no way.” With hesitation, he rubbed the back of his neck. “You’re going to tell him, right?” My lips parted, but no words came out. “Liz. You have to tell him. He has a right to know.”
My hands brushed against my eyes. “I need you to go, Tanner. Please. Just go.”
“All I’m saying is if you love him, if there’s any part of you that truly cares for this guy, then you’ll let him go. You’ll let him move on.”
The last thing he said to me was he didn’t mean to hurt me.
I had a really hard time believing him.
I didn’t know how to tell Tristan what Tanner had told me. We drove to Mama’s house, and he could tell Tanner had said something that bothered me, but he didn’t pressure me to talk about it. I tried to put on my best smiles for Mama and Mike the night of their wedding reception; I tried my best to be happy for them, but inside my heart was so confused.
Emma dragged Tristan out to the dance floor. I couldn’t help but smile when I heard a slow song come on and watched Emma step onto his feet. Mama came over to me in her beautiful ivory dress and sat beside me.
“You haven’t said one word to me all night,” she said. Her smile was the sad kind.
“I came, didn’t I? Isn’t that good enough?” Such a big part of me felt somewhat betrayed by her sudden rush to the chapel. She’d always had a way of rushing all of her relationships, but she hadn’t been crazy enough to walk down the aisle with a man she hardly knew. I turned toward her. “What are you doing, Mama? Just be honest with me…were you having money issues again? You could’ve asked me for help.”