“It’s good to hear that you’ve been thinking this through.”
I heard the pause. “But?”
“But that could be a serious issue, couldn’t it?”
I loved the way my dad urged me to explore without trying to sway me or judge. He’d always been that way. “Yes. I don’t think it would become a deal breaker for us, but it could cause problems. He isn’t used to not getting what he wants.”
“Then you’re good for him.”
“He thinks so.” I shrugged. “Gideon isn’t the problem. It’s me. He’s been through a lot in his life and he’s had to deal with it on his own. I don’t want him to feel like he’s got to handle everything himself anymore. I want him to feel like we’re a unit and that I’m here to support him. That’s a hard message to send when I want my own independence, too.”
“You’re a lot like me,” he said with a soft smile, looking so handsome that my heart swelled with pride.
“I know you’ll get along with him. He’s a good man, with a beautiful heart. He’d do anything for me, Dad.” Even kill for me.
The thought made me queasy. The possibility that Gideon would have to answer for Nathan’s death in some way was all too real. I couldn’t let anything happen to him.
“Would he let me pay for the wedding?” My dad snorted out a laugh. “I guess I should ask how much of a fight you think your mother would give me.”
“Dad . . .” My chest tightened again. After the discussions we’d had about paying for my college tuition, I knew better than to say he didn’t have to stretch his finances to the breaking point for me. It was a point of pride and my father was a very proud man. “I don’t know what to say except thank you.”
He gave me a relieved smile and I realized that he’d been expecting me to be resistant, too. “I’ve got about fifty large. I know it’s not much—”
I reached for his hand. “It’s perfect.”
I could already hear my mom’s freakout in my head. I’d cope with that when the time came.
It would be worth it for the look on my father’s face at that moment.
“IT hasn’t changed.” Cary paused on the sidewalk outside the former recreation center and pulled the sunglasses off his face. His gaze slid over the gym’s entrance. “I’ve missed this place.”
I reached for his hand and linked our fingers. “Me, too.”
We headed up the walk and nodded at the couple standing by the door smoking. Then we went inside and were greeted by the sights and sounds of a hoops match in progress. Two teams of three played a half-court game, taunting each other and laughing. I knew from experience that sometimes Dr. Travis’s unusual offices were the only place one felt free and safe enough to laugh.
We waved at the players, who paused just long enough to register us, and then we made a beeline for the door that still had Coach emblazoned on the glass inset. It was ajar and a beloved figure lounged in a worn desk chair with his feet propped on the desk. He tossed a tennis ball against the wall and caught it deftly, over and over, while a fellow patient I knew from before vaped on an electronic cigarette and talked.
“Oh my God.” Kyle stood in a rush, her pretty red mouth falling open and a cloud of vapor billowing out. “I didn’t know you two were back!”
She launched herself at Cary, barely giving me time to let his hand go.
Dr. Travis folded his legs and then stood, his kind face splitting with a welcoming grin. He was dressed in his usual khakis and dress shirt, with the leather sandals on his feet and the earrings in his ears giving him away as a tad unconventional. His sandy brown hair was shaggy and messy, and his wire-rimmed glasses were slightly skewed on the bridge of his nose.
“I wasn’t expecting you two until sometime after three,” he said.
“It’s after three in New York,” Cary rejoined, disentangling himself from Kyle.
I had my suspicions that Cary had slept with the pretty blonde at some point, and that she hadn’t brushed it off as easily as he had.
Dr. Travis caught me up in a quick hug, then did the same to Cary. I watched my best friend’s eyes close and his cheek rest for a moment on Dr. Travis’s shoulder. My eyes stung as they always did whenever I saw Cary happy. Dr. Travis was the closest thing to a father that he had and I knew how much Cary loved him.
“You two still watching each other’s backs in the Big Apple?”
“Of course,” I replied.
Cary jerked his thumb at me. “She’s getting married. I’m having a baby.”
I elbowed Cary in the ribs.
“Oww,” he complained, rubbing his side.
Dr. Travis blinked. “Congratulations. Quick work, both of you.”
“I’ll say,” Kyle muttered. “What’s it been? A month?”
“Kyle.” Dr. Travis tucked his chair into his desk. “Would you give us a minute?”
She snorted and sauntered toward the door. “You’re good, Doc, but I think you’re going to need more time than that.”
“ENGAGED, huh?” Kyle took another drag off her e-cigarette, her eyes on Cary as he leaped above Dr. Travis’s head and made a slam dunk. We sat on the worn bleachers about three rows from the top, enough distance away that we couldn’t overhear the therapy session taking place on the court.
Cary got restless when he opened up. Dr. Travis had quickly learned to keep Cary physically active if he wanted to keep him talking.
Kyle looked at me. “I always kinda figured you and Cary would end up together.”
I laughed and shook my head. “It’s not like that with us. Never has been.”
She shrugged. Her eyes were the color of the San Diego sky and heavily rimmed with electric blue liner. “You known this guy you’re marrying long?”
Dr. Travis nailed a bank shot and then ruffled Cary’s hair affectionately. I saw him glance at me and knew it was my turn.
I stood and stretched. “Catch you later,” I said to Kyle.
My mouth twisted wryly and I made my way down the stairs until I reached Dr. Travis.
He was about Gideon’s height, so I stopped before I hit the bottom stair so that we were briefly at eye level. “You ever consider moving to New York, Doc?”
He smiled his crooked smile. “As if California taxes aren’t bad enough.”
I sighed dramatically. “I had to try.”
His arm slung around my shoulders when I joined him courtside. “So did Cary. I’m flattered.”
We went to his office. I shut the door while he nabbed a dinged metal chair and spun it around to sit facing backward with his arms draped along the backrest. It was one of his quirks. He sat in the desk chair when he was just hanging out; he straddled the relic when he got down to business.
“Tell me about your fiancé,” he said, when I took my usual spot on the green vinyl sofa that was held together with duct tape and decorated with signatures of former and existing patients.
“Come on,” I chided. “We both know Cary filled you in.”
Cary always started his sessions with talk about my life and me. That eventually dovetailed into talk about him.
“And I know who Gideon Cross is.” Dr. Travis tapped his feet in that way he had that somehow never seemed restless or impatient. “But I want to hear about the man you’re going to marry.”
I thought for a minute and he sat quietly while I did, not waiting, just observing. “Gideon is . . . God, he’s so many things. He’s complicated. We have some issues to work out, but we’ll get there. My more immediate problem is the feelings I’m having for this singer I used to . . . see.”
“You remember his name.”
“Cary reminded me, but I remember our discussions about him.”
“Yeah, well.” I looked at my stunning wedding ring, twisting it around my finger. “I’m so in love with Gideon. He’s changed my life in so many ways. He makes me feel beautiful and precious. I know it seems too fast, but he’s the one for me.”
Dr. Travis smiled. “It was love at first sight for me and my wife. We were in high school when we met, but I knew she was the girl I was going to marry.”
My gaze drifted to the pictures of his wife on his desk. There was one when she was younger, and another more recent. The office itself was a mess of papers, sports equipment, books, and ancient posters of bygone sports personalities, but the frames and glass protecting the photos were spotless.
“I don’t understand why Brett has any effect on me at all. It’s not that I want him. I can’t imagine being with anyone else but Gideon. Sexually or otherwise. But I’m not indifferent to Brett.”
“Why should you be?” he asked simply. “He was a part of your life at a pivotal time, and the end of your relationship caused a bit of an epiphany for you.”
“My . . . interest—that’s not the right word—doesn’t feel like nostalgia.”
“No, I’m sure it doesn’t. I would guess you’re feeling some regret. Thinking about what-ifs. It was a highly sexual relationship for you, so there may be some lingering attraction, even if you know you’d never go there again.”
I was almost sure he was right about that.
His fingertips drummed on the back of the chair. “You said your fiancé is a complicated man and you’re working on some issues. Brett was very simple. You knew what you were getting with him. In the last few months, you’ve had a big move, you’re closer to your mother, and you’re engaged. You may, occasionally, wish things were simpler.”
I stared at him as that sank in. “How do you make sense like that?”
Fear made me say, “I don’t want to screw things up with Gideon.”
“Do you have someone you’re talking with in New York?”
“We’re in couples therapy.”
He nodded. “Practical. That’s good. He wants it to work, too. Does he know?”
About Nathan? “Yes.”
“I’m proud of you, kiddo.”
“I’m going to avoid Brett, but I wonder if that means I’m not dealing with the root of the problem. Like an alcoholic who doesn’t drink is still an alcoholic. The problem is still there, they’re just staying away from it.”
“Not quite true, but interesting that you’d use an addiction analogy. You’re prone to self-destructive behavior with men. A lot of individuals with your history are, so it’s not unexpected and we’ve addressed that before.”
“I know.” That was why I was so afraid of getting lost in Gideon.
“There are a few things you have to consider,” he continued. “You’re engaged to a man who, on the surface, is very much the sort of man your mother would want for you. Considering how you feel about your mother’s dependence on men, there might be some resistance you’re feeling.”
My nose wrinkled.
He wagged his finger at me. “Ah, a possibility? The other is that you might not feel you deserve what you’ve found with him.”
A rock settled in my gut. “And I deserve Brett?”
“Eva.” He gave me a kind smile. “The fact you’re even asking that question . . . that’s your problem right there.”
“I DIDN’T EVEN recognize you without the suit and tie,” Sam Yimara said, as I settled into the seat across from him. He was a compact man, well shy of six feet in height but muscled. His head was shaved and tattooed, his earlobes pierced so that I could see right through them.