“Dante,” Luc greeted wearily. He was surprisingly noncombative as he stepped aside to allow Dante entry into the creaky old house.
“Cleo!” Dante called the minute he stepped over the threshold.
“She’s not here,” Luc said.
“Don’t fucking lie to me, Luc,” Dante snapped. “Where the hell else would she be?”
“Well, she’s not currently here. Her OB/GYN insisted she come in for a follow-up appointment because Cleo discharged herself early against medical advice yesterday. Blue’s gone with her.”
“I should be there.” Dante turned to head back out, but Luc’s hand on his arm stopped him.
“She won’t want you there, amigo,” Luc said, looking almost sympathetic.
“She blames me for this,” Dante confessed, running a hand through his hair. “We were in an accident on Saturday night, and if I hadn’t been such an overbearing asshole, she would have been in her own car, safely behind us. So, she’s probably right. I did this. I killed our baby.”
“Shit.” Luc massaged the back of his neck as he watched his usually stoic and unemotional friend unravel right in front of his eyes. “You didn’t kill your baby, Dante.”
“The hell of it was,” Dante whispered, ignoring Luc’s words, “I wanted him so badly. I don’t even know when it changed. I watched her growing bigger with our baby; I listened to her chatter on about ultrasounds and week-by-week growth charts. I even felt him move, Luc, and he became so real to me.”
Luc steered him into a large room that, like the rest of the house, was grand but shabby. It housed a couch and a couple of mismatched love seats and armchairs. Luc pushed him onto the couch and poured him a glass of something amber. He pressed the tumbler firmly into Dante’s hand.
“Drink this,” Luc insisted. Dante took a sip and winced when the Scotch hit the back of his throat.
“So why are you here, Dante?” Luc asked, taking a sip from his own glass. “Your responsibility to Cleo ended with her pregnancy.”
“You think I can switch these emotions on and off like a machine?” Dante asked resentfully, hating that his old friend would think so little of him.
“What emotions? What you felt for the baby is unrelated to your relationship with Cleo, so you can let her move on with her life now, while you move on with yours.”
Dante stared at him mutely, not sure how to respond, not sure how he felt but knowing one thing with absolute certainty.
“There is no moving on for me without Cleo.” Luc’s eyes narrowed at his words, and he lifted his glass in a slight salute to Dante.
“Well, you’ll have your work cut out convincing her of that, my friend.”
“Am I?” Dante asked uncertainly, a little embarrassed by the hope and vulnerability he heard in his own voice.
“Are you what?”
“Yeah, man. Always.”
And that was really all he needed to say.
“Cleo?” Blue’s voice intruded into Cleo’s darkened room. “Why don’t you join Luc and me downstairs? We’ve ordered a pizza—with all your favorite toppings—and would love it if you’d have a slice or two with us.”
“I’m not hungry,” Cleo responded listlessly. She wasn’t interested in eating or talking or being around people. She just wanted to lie here and stare at her favorite patch of wall.
“You have to eat something, Cleo,” Blue said, her gentle voice grating on Cleo’s frayed and wearied nerves.
“Please leave me alone,” she begged, the ever-present tears seeping from behind her closed lids and wetting the pillow beneath her cheek.
“I’ll bring you a slice,” Blue said quietly, and retreated from the room.
It was a week since she’d lost the baby, and each day was harder than the one before it. The hospital had called to inform her that they had cremated Zach’s remains and would keep his ashes until she was ready to collect them. But Cleo, whose body was still recovering from the pregnancy and the induced labor, couldn’t deal with the thought of collecting the ashes of a baby she was still lactating for. Her breasts producing milk for her dead baby had been such a kick to the stomach that she was still reeling from the blow. She couldn’t face the world yet; she didn’t know how she would ever recover from this, didn’t know how it was possible for any woman to recover from this.
To make matters worse, she missed Dante badly and thought about him constantly. She was still convinced that she’d made the right decision in leaving and knew that he’d probably come to that realization as well since he hadn’t tried to contact her at all after that last day in the hospital. She pictured him in his office, wheeling and dealing. For all she knew, he was in Tokyo or possibly Dubai.
She told herself she didn’t care what he was doing. What did it matter? He was out of her life; he would never be a part of her life again. He must be so relieved that they hadn’t married, after all.
The thought brought fresh tears to her eyes, and she curled up into a tight ball, wanting to be as small as possible in an effort to shield herself from the relentless barrage of pain. This would pass. It had to pass.
Dante’s initial reaction to his front door opening up unexpectedly was to hope for one wild moment that it was Cleo coming home. But when Luc stepped over the threshold instead of Cleo, Dante could do nothing but stare at the man stupidly
“How did you get in here?” he asked after a long moment of silence.