“Brynne . . . he’s gone, sweetheart. I’m so sorry.” She was crying. My mother was sobbing into the phone to me and I was struck with the idea that I’d never seen or heard her cry before now.
I dropped my phone and it landed in my soup bowl with a big splash that sprayed across the front of me. I just stared and left it lying at the bottom of my chicken tortilla soup. Ethan would have to get me a new one. That phone was dust now. I’d never touch it again.
I ended up on my feet somehow, but I didn’t have anywhere to go. There was nowhere good to go to—I was trapped.
So I started to float like I had that other time. Only I realized what was happening to me this time around. I welcomed the sensation. Lightness feels good when your heart is so heavy it wants to drag you down into the pits of hell. Yeah, being out of my body felt much better.
I floated higher until I could look down at myself. I saw Ben bracing me on his lap. He sat on the floor of the restaurant holding me. Gaby was beside him talking into a phone at someone. The waiter rushed over to assist.
But it was all so stupid.
Why were we all on the floor of a posh London restaurant when we should have been eating our lunches? We had to get out of there. I had a dress to find and a wedding to plan. My dad was coming to give me away at the ceremony in just seven weeks. The Queen of England had received an invitation, for Christ’s sake. We didn’t have time to f**k around like this!
Eventually I figured it out. The lightness that felt so nice went away and the weight of pain and grief returned to take its place.
I didn’t want to come back down to Earth. I wanted to stay right where I was.
That’s not true. I wanted to keep floating upward until I dissolved. That sounded really nice to me. Dissolving . . .
I felt nothing but enraged hatred for the ceiling. That goddamn motherfucking ceiling was keeping me from floating away.
Let me go! Let me float away . . .
I sat up and looked over at Brynne. She slept. In a comfortable guest bed, in her father’s modern house, in a very nice suburb of San Francisco, my girl slept. She was crushed inside her heart, but for now she rested. She was unburdened from the grief for the moment.
I couldn’t let her out of my sight for more than a few hours, so leaving London and going to the States for her father’s funeral without me was out of the question. What if they tried to take her on American soil? No, I couldn’t risk the possibility. This was a day-by-day, hour-by-hour operation. Keeping Brynne safe was my greatest priority now, Olympics be damned. Neil was back in London stepping in for me, and between him and Frances, they’d keep the business machine running. I wasn’t very troubled at all about my job. No, my worries were much, much bigger and vastly more terrifying.
I hoped to shed some light on what had happened to Tom on this trip but didn’t hold out much hope. Either way, I wasn’t going down without a fight. They could try to get at her, but they’d have to go through me first.
Mrs. Exley had wanted us to stay with her in the home she shared with her husband, the nontalkative Frank, but Brynne wouldn’t hear of it.
She said she wanted to be in her father’s home, with his things, in the place where she’d last seen him talking to us on Skype. She felt grateful that the last time they’d spoken had been a happy time. She kept saying that to me. “Daddy was happy about us. He knew everything and he was happy.”
“Yes he was, baby . . .” I whispered over her sleeping form. My sleeping beauty in the night with her long hair tangled in the pillows, the blanket pulled up to her throat like she was seeking comfort from the weight of the fabric against her body. She was still suffering from shock and barely eating. I feared for her health and that of our baby’s. I was scared that this would change us. Change her feelings for me. Push her into an emotional tailspin.
I was well aware of her past, and that knowledge bore down impossibly heavy on me now. My girl suffered from depression. She’d even tried to kill herself at one very low and tragic point in her life. There, I said it. Didn’t do me a f**k’s worth of good to acknowledge it either. Yes, it was a long time ago, and she was very together and sensible now . . . but there was no guarantee she wouldn’t revert back to those self-destructive behaviors again, or tell me to sod off and leave my sorry arse for good when it all became too much to deal with.
I sucked in a breath and looked over toward the mirrored closet doors to see my reflection. Who in the motherfucking hell was I kidding? Brynne wasn’t alone. Depression was a harsh mistress, and she and I had been well acquainted for quite some time now.
I resisted the urge to touch her. She needed rest and I needed a cigarette. I checked the bedside table for the time and got up carefully. I threw on some joggers and a shirt, heading outside to sit beside the pool and serve my nicotine habit. I wanted to ring Neil too.
I stared at the dark water while I waited for my call to connect. The same dark water where Tom Bennett had spent his final moments in this life.
I left the door cracked so I could hear if Brynne needed me. She’d started having nightmares again, and because she was pregnant, drugs were not a good option. There was too much risk to the baby’s development. She would have refused to take them anyway. So she suffered. And I worried.
The summer moon reflected in the water’s surface, and I thought about Tom dying in it. I was no homicide detective, but some scenarios were certainly running through my head. Bringing myself to voice them aloud was out of the question. If I did that, then I was damning my girl to a similar fate. I wasn’t going there. No f**king way.
“Holding down the fort okay?” I replied to Neil’s brusque greeting.
“Things are typically chaotic here, so you have nothing to worry over. It’s business as usual, E.”
“True. And I trust you too. Tell those arseholes I said that, please.”
“With pleasure, boss, but you should know that every client has been very understanding. Most of them are human.”
I sucked in a deep lungful of clove and held it to get maximum burn. Neil just waited for me patiently. Nothing ever seemed to rush him. Coolest bloke I’ve ever known. “Events like these bring out one’s priorities rather quickly, you know?”
“Yeah. I bet they do. How is Brynne holding up?”
“She’s . . . doing her best to be strong, but she’s struggling. I haven’t broached the possibilities with her yet, and I’m not sure we’ll ever have that conversation. Looks like it was a massive heart attack while swimming, which it very well could have been, but I want to see the autopsy report.” I sighed. “You know how long those can take. The forensics labs are just as f**ked up in the States as they are at home.”