When she next woke up, it was to harsh sunlight streaming through the bare window. Memories flooded back, and she sat up and looked around the room frantically. There were cards and flowers on every available surface. How had people gotten word of this so quickly? Dante was asleep in an uncomfortable-looking chair, his chin on his chest and his long legs sprawled out in front of him.
“No,” she muttered, panic lacing her voice when she couldn’t find what she was looking for. “No!”
The sharp cry woke Dante, and he sat up quickly, his face etched with grief and concern as his eyes immediately flew to her.
“Where is he?” she demanded, trying to pull the IV lines out of her arms so that she could get off the bed to search. He jumped up and put a hand over her frantically tugging fingers.
“Stop that, Cleo.” His voice was rough with sleep, and she noted that his eyes were bloodshot, his jaw black with stubble, and his hair stood up in tufts. “You’ll hurt yourself.”
“Where did they take my baby?” she screamed. “Where is he?”
“Cleo, they had to take him down to the . . .” His words ground to a halt, as if he were physically incapable of saying the next one.
“Take him where?”
“You know where,” he whispered. “Downstairs. To the . . . to the morgue.”
“No! He belongs here, with me,” she said, her voice anguished. “How could you let them take him away from me? How could you?”
“Cleo, be reasonable,” he begged. “He couldn’t stay here. They had to take him. To p-preserve—” Again he stumbled, and this time seemed completely unable of finishing what he’d been trying to say. She heard a high, thin wail, and for a second didn’t register that it had come from her. Dante—alarmed by the sound—reached for her, trying to gather her into his arms, but she resisted his embrace, pushing him away, and his eyes flared with pain as he stepped back.
Cleo turned away from him until she was facing the opposite wall, and curled into a tight ball. It hurt to have him here. She wanted him gone.
“Luc and Blue were here,” he said, determinedly disregarding the fact that she was ignoring him. “And Cal called. The pink roses are from him.”
He kept talking and talking even though she stubbornly refused to acknowledge his presence. He told her that Blue and Luc had promised to return later and that they both sent their love. Susan Killian had sent flowers, as had James, Mrs. Whitman, and Coco and Gigi. But she didn’t care. She didn’t care about any of those people. How could they possibly understand how this felt? Zach had trusted her to take care of him, depended on her, and she had failed. Utterly failed him. Her hand went down to her abdomen, wishing she could feel him move again. Willing any kind of movement that would tell her that this was nothing more than a horrible nightmare, but it never came.
Her baby was gone. He was dead. And all the smiles, the first step, the first word, his first day of school, the long and beautiful life he should have led were gone with him. The unbearable agony that came with that gaping sense of loss was immeasurable, and the tears that finally came flooding out in no way at all helped her feel better.
She felt Dante climb onto the bed behind her and curve his body around hers. It was a tight fit, but he made it work. His arm crept over her waist, and his hand came to rest over hers on her abdomen. He held her as she cried, and while initially she tried to resist the comfort he offered, in the end she was grateful for his solid warmth and silent support.
“I wanted to hold him again,” she said into the silence, her voice thick after her onslaught of tears. “The morgue is cold. It’s not the place for him. He’s so tiny.”
“I know,” he said, tightening his arm around her waist. “I didn’t want them to take him either.”
“This is your fault,” she accused. The words seemed to come from out of nowhere, but she found herself needing to blame someone, needing to hate someone, and hating Dante right now was so much easier than loving him. She couldn’t love anybody right now; love led to loss and pain.
“We can go down and see him when you’re feeling a little calmer,” he said, misunderstanding her. He withdrew his arm from around her waist, and she felt him get off the bed, leaving her cold and alone. But that was what she wanted. She couldn’t depend on him; she refused to depend on him. Not when he would inevitably move on with his life and leave her behind. She turned around to face him.
“That’s not what I meant,” she corrected, amazed by how calm her voice sounded. “You did this.”
“What?” He seemed to lose every ounce of blood he had; his usually swarthy skin went completely white. “What do you mean?”
“This is your fault.” Her voice rose and became shrill as the nascent thought gained momentum. “The Great Dante Damaso always knows best, doesn’t he? He always gets his own way! If I hadn’t gotten into that car with you on Saturday night, if I’d driven myself back, this would never have happened. But you would never have let me, would you? Because you always know best!”
He stepped back, stumbling over the visitor’s chair as he shook his head. His eyes were bright and feverish, and his face looked carved from granite.
“You can’t mean that. You don’t know what you’re saying,” he said. His voice was urgent and rough with emotion. “This wasn’t my fault, Cleo; how can you say that it was?”
“From the moment I met you, every single thing in my life went wrong,” she sobbed, and he shook his head again.