Matthew sat on the stairs, cringing at the pilot episode of Children’s Minds, which Tara had going full blast. His initial performance as the glib Dr. Monroe shamed him, but not as much as his smarmy little hug, lowering his face to Tara’s, asking if she would tell him her secret now—after he’d walked out on her. With his charm at full-wattage “forgive-me,” she would, before long. Tara liked him; girls always liked him. But his conscience wasn’t accepting that old sop anymore.
And too bad if Matthew had lost his one chance to hear what Tara thought, just because he knew what the secret was. Having watched—against all reason—Brooke direct an entire rehearsal, he had seen that her idea for a hanged-man’s shadow was not about her murderous father.
Last night while he’d wept at how close he had come to killing Brooke, she’d promised: No more tempting fate. The thud of his car clipping her bicycle drowned out the blaring TV. Minutes after the collision, when Brooke’s reassuring touch and voice had failed to banish: his oversized car; the steep, icy streets; moonless night; the fact of Brooke hurtling past his windshield—she had taken his hand and led him upstairs. Because his lust for her always overwhelmed his love.
Yet even if he could, Matthew wouldn’t change how he felt. For Brooke had always run through his dreams, the ones he forgot upon waking. Her spirit had found his and all its emotional power—a miracle to a man who had spent his life gliding on the surface. Brooke had given Matthew his inner life, which turned out to be boundless.
And what could he give her? Love and protection if he weren’t sworn to remain unknown to her for a year, during which Brooke’s survival might depend on love and protection. He was abandoning her at the worst possible time.
For Matthew, a year of the most tortuous loneliness would be just one year of thirty-two. While to Brooke, to anyone her age, a year without hope would be endless despair. And unlike anyone else, Brooke braved life without filters.
But he was still leaving her.
Fletcher agreed that Brooke’s demons were no secret. Yet he told Matthew not to worry. He was Brooke’s fairy godfather. “I’ll take care of her state of mind, Bond. She saved me and I shall not allow her to come to harm. Losing Dickie was my worst nightmare. I may not have endured his loss bravely or nicely but because of Brooke, I am now fit to sustain her through your separation. But,” he had tapped Matthew’s arm, “be forewarned: If your love proves the least bit weak, I’ll swat you like a fly.”
“Fair enough.” And yet, Matthew’s anxiety would not let up.
Connie passed him on the stairs. “Are you picking up Dex?”
“Yes, thanks for reminding me.” He hadn’t realized the time. Ivy spent her afternoons at the Gallery making necklaces with Chase, leading him in call and response. Dex wanted time with Matthew.
Parked near the school, he wondered how to prepare his son for Sung’s restrictions.
Dex climbed into the passenger seat and tossed his knapsack in back.
“Dad, I saw you kissing Brooke last night.”
“Yep. Me and Ivy.”
“You know, I’m not allowed to do that.”
“When’s she eighteen you can. She told me. When she’s eighteen you can marry her.”
“Because of the James Bond movie, Dex, I’ll be in the spotlight the next time I enter JFK. And the people in charge say I cannot even hear about Brooke until next Christmas.”
“Please, don’t’ say ‘shit,’ Dex. I feel like a bad father.”
“Shit, shit, shit,” Dex said.
In Tara’s room, she was also muttering, “Shit, shit, shit.”
So Tara sat on the wide bay window ledge, while her mother tied green ribbons on Christmas ornaments. “Fletcher has found a community in Illinois for your father and is buying him a business and the apartment above it.”
“I know. Opus Dei central,” Tara said. “Good thing Fletcher and Pop are….buddies.”
“Don’t disparage Fletcher, Tara. I’ve told you before—I admire him.”
“Yeah, well, you married Pop.”
“He was a better man then, Tara. Fletcher’s giving Jimmy a new start and deserves our gratitude.”
“That’s up to you. For once, your father’s lucky. But you must never contact him, Tara.”
“I’m not an idiot—or a traitor.”
“Okay, I won’t worry about you being too forgiving.”
“Are we done?”
“One more thing.” When Connie said, “one more thing,” whatever followed was the reason for the talk she preferred not getting into. “My cousins in Vermont have invited you to spend the next four days skiing, Tara. Their kids are certified instructors.”
“I’ve never met these people.”
“They’re our relatives.”
“What if I’m nicer to Brooke? What if I promise: No more sulking over Matthew?”
“If you can do that, Tara, of course, I’d rather you spent Christmas here.”
“Well, me too.”
In the hallway, Tara decided her jealousy must have been temporary insanity. The minute she turned sixteen, in May, she’d get her GED. And after Matthew got her an internship with his agent, she’d go to UCLA film school, emphasis on business. That’s what Tara wanted—not what battered, wild, lovesick Brooke had.
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