I consider declining but I just want out of here. I just want out. I climb into the car.

Twenty-seven

“Where do you want to go?” Mark asks, leaving the car idling.

I don’t look at him. I stare blindly out of the window and give him my apartment address. I don’t care that I have no furniture. Chris has his way of dealing with things and I have mine. The idea of returning to Chris’s place, which was supposed to be our place, is unbearable tonight. I’ll face it tomorrow.

“Sara,” Mark says softly and I turn to him. “Are you okay?”

“Not yet. But I’ll find a way to survive. I always do.”

“You don’t need to be alone. I have a spare bedroom and I live a few blocks from here.”

“No. I’m not going to your place. Thank you, but I need to be alone.”

He considers me for a moment and puts the car into drive. Numbness begins to form within me. I remember this sensation when my mother died. The absolute nothingness of what I felt, and I welcome it, recognizing it as my mind’s way of surviving.

Twenty minutes later, I break the silence and direct Mark to my building. “You can just let me out here.”

“I’m walking you to your door.”

I sigh inwardly. I won’t win this battle and I don’t have a fight left in me anyway.

He parks and we walk to my door. I turn to him. “Thanks for the ride.”

“Let me have your phone.”

I don’t ask him why. I just hand it to him. He punches something into it and returns it to me. “My address is in your contacts. My offer stands indefinitely. If you need me, my door is open.”

I don’t question his motives because I am not in a state of mind to judge much of anything. “I appreciate that.”

He studies me. “I’m waiting on you to go inside safely.”

I dig into my purse and drop my head to the door. “I don’t have my key.”

Mark leans on the door to face me, his jacket unbuttoned, and I’m struck by how proper he is even now. How in control, and I envy that in him. “Come home with me,” he says. “Let me take care of you tonight.”

I lift my head and stare into his silvery gray eyes, and part of me wants just to feed off that control he has, to make it my own. But no. If Chris knew I’d gone home with Mark, even to stay in a spare bedroom, it would destroy him. Or maybe it wouldn’t. I choose to believe he loves me enough that it would. “I won’t do that to Chris.”

He studies me a long moment and his expression is as unreadable as ever. “Where to, then?” he asks, pushing off the door.

“To Chris’s—” Realization hits me and I push off the door and dig into my purse, and jackpot. I have Ella’s key. I hold it up. “My neighbor’s apartment. She’s out of the country.” I motion toward her door and slide the key inside, and thankfully, it opens. I flip on the light and I turn to Mark. “Thank you again.”

“You’re sure you’re okay here?”

“Yes. Very.”

He hesitates. “Call me if you need me.”

“I will.”

I watch him round the corner before I enter Ella’s apartment and shut the door. I lean against it, taking in the fluffy blue couch and oversized chairs to match, remembering wine and pizza and long talks with Ella. She should be home next week, if she plans to teach this semester. No “should” about it. She has to be back home. She has to be all right.

Something inside me snaps. I shrug off my purse and start searching for anything that might tell me she is okay. I dig through papers, drawers, cabinets. I find nothing. Not even photos of her and David. Not a mention of him or Paris or a wedding. Nothing.

I end up in her bedroom, and I sink onto the soft white down comforter of Ella’s bed. My mother is dead. My father is an ass**le who wouldn’t care if I was dead. Dylan is dead. Ella is lost. Chris is lost. Everyone I dare to love disappears.

I tuck a pillow under my head and curl into myself. Alone is the only safe place to be. Alone hurts so much less.

I told him I can’t do this anymore. I can’t be what he needs me to be. He told me to let him do the thinking. Let him decide what I can be. He then yanked my skirt up and buried himself inside me. Once that man is inside me, I am lost. But maybe that is the problem. I am lost.

I jerk awake out of a dream of one of Rebecca’s journal entries, my gaze sweeping Ella’s small bedroom, the shadow of the deep night hour surrounding me. The sound of pounding jolts me again and I scramble to the end of the bed. Door. Someone’s knocking on the door. Hope flares inside me that it might be Chris.

I rush to the door and start to open it but common sense finds me at the last second. “Who is it?”

“Blake.”

I drop my head to the door. Damn it. Damn it. Damn it. Damn it.

“You gonna let me in?” he asks after several seconds.

“How did you know I was here?”

“Mark thought this would be a good place to look for you.”

Of course. Mark told him. Sighing in resignation, I open the door and find him leaning on the jamb, hand over his head, his long dark hair falling haphazardly from the tie at his nape. “Chris sent me looking for you. He’s worried because you’re not at his place.”

“Is he here?”

His lips thin and he shakes his head. “He’s in L.A.”

“Right,” I squeeze out. “What time is it?”

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