“How long, Christian?” Grace’s voice is soft. I can barely hear her.
I cannot hear his reply.
“How old were you?” Her voice is more insistent. “Tell me. How old were you when this all started?” Again I can’t hear Christian.
“Everything okay, Ana?” Ros interrupts me.
“Yes. Fine. Thank you. I . . .”
Ros smiles. “I’m just going to fetch my purse. I need a cigarette.” For a brief moment, I contemplate joining her.
“I’m off to the bathroom.” I need to gather my wits and my thoughts, to process what I’ve just witnessed and heard. Upstairs seems the safest place to be on my own. I watch Ros stroll into the drawing room, and I bolt two stairs at a time to the second floor, then up to the third. There’s only one place I want to be.
I open the door to Christian’s childhood bedroom and shut it behind me, taking a huge gulping breath. Heading for his bed, I flop onto it and stare at the plain white ceiling.
Holy cow. That has to be, without doubt, one of the most excruciating confrontations I’ve ever had to endure, and now I feel numb. My fiancé and his ex-lover—no would-be bride should have to see that. Having said that, part of me is glad she’s revealed her true self, and that I was there to bear witness.
My thoughts turn to Grace. Poor Grace, to hear all that. I clutch one of Christian’s pillows. She’ll have overheard that Christian and Elena had an affair—but not the nature of it. Thank heavens. I groan.
What am I doing? Perhaps the evil witch had a point.
No, I refuse to believe that. She’s so cold and cruel. I shake my head. She’s wrong. I am right for Christian. I am what he needs. And in a moment of stunning clarity, I don’t question how he’s lived his life until recently—but why. His reasons for doing what he’s done to countless girls—I don’t even want to know how many. The how isn’t wrong. They were all adults. They were all—how did Flynn put it?—in safe, sane, consensual relationships. It’s the why. The why was wrong. The why was from his place of darkness.
I close my eyes and drape my arm over them. But now he’s moved on, left it behind, and we are both in the light. I’m dazzled by him and he by me. We can guide each other. A thought occurs to me. Shit! A gnawing, insidious thought and I’m in the one place where I can lay this ghost to rest. I sit up. Yes, I must do this.
Shakily I get to my feet, kick off my shoes, walk over to his desk, and examine the pin board above it. The photos of young Christian are all still there—more poignant than ever as I think of the spectacle I’ve just witnessed between him and Mrs. Robinson. And there in the corner is the small black and white photo—his mother, the crack whore.
I switch on the desk lamp and focus the light on her picture. I don’t even know her name. She looks so much like him but younger and sadder and all I feel, looking at her sor-rowful face, is compassion. I try to see the similarities between her face and mine. I squint at the picture, getting really, really close, and see none. Except maybe our hair, but I think hers is lighter than mine. I don’t look like her at all. It’s a relief.
My subconscious tuts at me, arms crossed, glaring over her half-moon glasses. Why are you torturing yourself? You’ve said yes. You’ve made your bed. I purse my lips at her.
Yes I have, gladly so. I want to lie in that bed with Christian for the rest of my life. My inner goddess, sitting in the lotus position, smiles serenely. Yes. I’ve made the right decision.
I must find him—Christian will be worried. I have no idea how long I’ve been in his room; he’ll think that I’ve fled. I roll my eyes as I contemplate his overreaction. I hope that he and Grace have finished. I shudder to think what else she might have said to him.
I meet Christian as he climbs the stairs to the second floor, looking for me. His face is strained and weary—not the carefree Fifty I arrived with. As I stand on the landing, he stops on the top stair so that we are eye to eye.
“Hi,” he says cautiously.
“Hi,” I answer warily.
“I was worried—”
“I know,” I interrupt him. “I’m sorry—I couldn’t face the festivities. I just had to get away, you know. To think.” Reaching up, I caress his face. He closes his eyes and leans his face into my hand.
“And you thought you’d do that in my room?”
He reaches for my hand and pulls me into an embrace, and I go willingly into his arms, my favorite place in the whole world. He smells of fresh laundry, body wash, and Christian—the most calming and arousing scent on the planet. He inhales with his nose in my hair.”I’m sorry you had to endure all that.”
“It’s not your fault, Christian. Why was she here?” He gazes down at me, and his mouth curls apologetically.
“She’s a family friend.”
I try not to react. “Not any more. How’s your mom?”
“Mom is pretty fucking mad at me right now. I’m really glad you’re here, and that we’re in the middle of a party. Otherwise I might be breathing my last.”
“That bad, huh?”
He nods, his eyes serious, and I sense his bewilderment at her reaction.
“Can you blame her?” My voice is quiet, cajoling.
He hugs me tightly and he seems uncertain, processing his thoughts.
Finally he answers. “No.”
Whoa! Breakthrough. “Can we sit?” I ask.
I nod and we both sit at the top of the stairs.
“So, how do you feel?” I ask, anxiously clutching his hand and gazing at his sad, serious face.