“I’m so sorry for your loss,” he said somberly. Cleo couldn’t contain the sob that escaped when she saw the urn and acknowledged what the contents were. Dante wrapped an arm around her and held her close, while the morgue worker discreetly left them alone.
“It’s so stupid to be this . . . sad about the loss of someone who never really lived,” she said, her voice muffled by his chest.
“He lived,” Dante said firmly. “He lived inside you, and in a different way, he lived inside me. He lived in our hearts and in our heads; we saw him, we felt him. Don’t ever say he never really lived, Cleo. He may not have had a life, but he lived.”
“You know, for a guy who only ever said or did the wrong thing in the past, you’re doing pretty great with the pep talks lately,” she said, trying to sound a little more lighthearted even while she plucked a white handkerchief out of his breast pocket and blew her nose inelegantly. “How do you always manage to say the right thing?”
“In this instance, I’m not saying anything you don’t already know.” He stroked her hair back and kissed her sweetly.
She was getting used to his kisses, and it scared her because one day he wouldn’t be around to give her any more. She dreaded the inevitability of that day.
They left the hospital hand in hand, Dante carrying Zach’s ashes. When they reached the car, Cleo turned to him impulsively.
“Could we . . . do you think we could do it today?”
“Are you sure about that?” he asked. “Don’t you want your brother and Blue to be there too?”
“They’ve been amazing, but they don’t understand, Dante. Not really.”
“Don’t you think you’ll come to regret excluding them?”
She thought about that and then sighed.
“I don’t know,” she confessed miserably. “Maybe I would.” He squeezed her hand and lifted it to his mouth to plant a kiss on her knuckles.
“Let’s do it properly, okay? Would you like me to take care of the arrangements?” She hesitated at his question, feeling horrible about letting him bear the brunt of the responsibility, but he stared down at her with those infinitely patient eyes, and she found herself nodding.
“Do you want it to be a religious ceremony?”
“No, something intimate but informal.”
“Okay. I’ll take care of it.”
Dante asked Cleo, Luc, and Blue to meet him at the Waterfront by seven thirty the following evening. He was waiting beside his berthed yacht, dressed all in white. Cleo was wearing a simple white summer shift dress, and Blue and Luc had also respected Dante’s request that they wear white.
He helped them aboard and cast off after making sure everybody was comfortably seated. Naturally, Luc didn’t remain down for long; he wandered over to pepper Dante with questions about the boat, and the two chatted amicably while Blue and Cleo sat down.
“You okay?” Blue asked, taking her hand.
“It helps to have you and Luc here,” she said honestly, grateful to Dante for persuading her to include them. Her eyes drifted over to the big, handsome man who was talking to her brother. He was wearing a pair of expensive dark sunglasses, effectively shielding his emotions from all of them. But she knew exactly how he was feeling today.
“It helps to have him here too,” Cleo admitted, nodding toward where the two men stood. Dante was casually winding some thick rope around his elbow and thumb.
“I’ve known Dante for a few years now; he’s visited the house on occasion for dinner or to hang out with Luc,” Blue said unexpectedly.
“Yes?” Cleo prompted, curious to hear where this was going.
“Yes, and he was . . .” Blue shook her head. “Very different from this guy.”
Cleo snorted, knowing exactly what Blue meant.
“Let me guess.” Cleo held up a hand to stop Blue from saying more. “He was bossy, arrogant, a little too self-assured, and a little too unconcerned with the world around him?”
“Sounds about right,” Blue said with a smile. “I could never fault his friendship with Luc, though. Classic bromance if ever there was one. You don’t expect them to have much in common, and yet they can talk for hours. I think that’s one of the reasons Luc reacted so strongly to the news that Dante was your baby’s father. It felt like a betrayal. His best friend had disrespected his sister, and his sister had robbed him of his best friend.”
“Well, he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore. After today, Dante and I will probably not be seeing much of each other again.” She couldn’t think of a single reason they should have any connection after this. Zach’s remains were all that tied them together. Life would have to go back to normal, even if Cleo would never be the same.
“Why not?” Blue asked. “You guys are good for each other.”
“We’re helping each other get through this, Blue. After this, we have nothing tethering us to each other. We can move forward and carry on with our lives.”
“Have you spoken to him about this?”
“He’ll agree with me. He has to. It makes no sense to drag this out when there’s nothing more between us.”
The boat finally started moving, and Luc sat down on Cleo’s other side and dropped an arm around her shoulder in casual affection, giving her a comforting squeeze.
“It’ll be okay, Pattypan,” he said beneath his breath, and she gave him a small smile.
“I know,” she whispered, and dropped her head on his shoulder. She watched the Waterfront slide by and get left behind, watched the beautiful flat-topped Table Mountain recede and become flatter and flatter the farther out they went. The view was breathtaking. Once they were far enough away from other boats to be alone, Dante switched off the engines. He didn’t unfurl the sails but pulled a lever that he’d told her the other day was the anchor release.