"I'm going to the Dominican Republic. I leave tomorrow at oh-eight-hundred."
Parker fought down the wave of nausea threatening to empty her stomach of the evening's dinner.
"Why the hell would you ever go there?" Parker asked angrily.
Garrett sighed and looked down at his shoes. It was bad if he wouldn't look her in the eyes. Garrett knew she could read him like a book and that she would see everything he was feeling.
"It wasn't an accident," Garrett said quietly, his eyes suddenly fascinated by a rock on the ground.
Parker knew exactly what Garrett was talking about; there was no need to question him. Part of her wasn't shocked by what he said. She wasn't stupid. She knew there were military cover-ups all the time. Milo had gotten increasingly distant and short with her in the months leading up to his departure to the Dominican. He spent most of his time at home locked in his office or taking phone calls on his cell at all hours of the night. He snapped at her when she questioned the change in him, and they fought constantly about what he was keeping from her. The biggest fight they ever had in eight years occurred the morning after he told her he was leaving. Parker had been cleaning the house and picked up a fax that had just come in over the machine in his office. Milo came up behind her, smacked it out of her hand, and shoved her against the bookshelf, screaming at her, telling her she had no business looking at his things.
She knew all too well his job involved confidential information she wasn't privy to. They were more alike in that manner than anyone knew. But when it started trickling into their home life, and he got violent with her, it became a problem.
When Milo walked out the door the morning of his flight after repeatedly apologizing to her for his earlier outburst, Parker fought the overwhelming fear that she might never see him again. She chalked it up to nerves about him being so far away this close to their wedding and how things just hadn't been right between them lately. But each day he was gone, the feelings grew until she couldn't stand to be in her own skin anymore. Something didn't feel right, and the one and only time she talked to him on the phone after he left, he sounded scared.
Parker accepted the news of Milo's "accidental death" because she had to. She had to plan a funeral, pack up his belongings, cancel wedding plans, and try to keep it together so she could function and work. She didn't have time to dwell on conspiracy theories. Garrett never questioned Milo's death, so Parker didn't either. She trusted Garrett to always be honest with her, especially after Milo's death.
"How are you holding up, Park?" Garrett had asked, inadvertently using Milo's nickname for her as he walked into an empty viewing room at the funeral home where Parker had sneaked away to for some peace and quiet.
Parker felt like the walls were closing in on her, and she couldn't handle one more insincere apology or condolence from someone she didn't even know.
All of the hugs from strangers, the pats on the back, and the looks of pity made her want to scream or punch something. As soon as those feelings started to bubble up inside of her, she knew she needed to get out of that room and away from the closed casket that held her fiancé.
"Why in the hell do people send flowers when someone dies? I mean really, who do they think they're doing it for? Milo's never going to appreciate them, and obviously these people never had anyone close to them die before. If they did, they would know that the smell of flowers will always make the people left behind think of death from now on. Every time I smell a carnation I get the chills."
Parker couldn't stop the word vomit even if she wanted to. When she was nervous or upset, she talked. A lot. She felt Garrett walk up behind her, and when he placed his warm, gentle hands on her shoulders and started kneading the stress away, she forgot what she had been complaining about and lost herself in his touch. Her tattered heart skipped a beat when Garrett's fingers grazed the bare skin of her collarbone in the black, scoop-necked dress she wore. Garrett bit down on the inside of his cheek to stop himself from sighing at the feel of Parker's smooth, soft skin and the way she leaned back into his touch as if trying to get as close to him as possible.
They stood there for several long minutes. Parker stared out the window at the overflowing parking lot of people who came to pay their respects, and Garrett patiently waited until she was ready to talk again. He had done nothing but worry about Parker since she called him four days ago and told him his best friend was gone. It was easier to be concerned with Parker's well-being than to dwell on what was going on inside of him.
Parker had been running on all cylinders the past couple of days, and Garrett feared that she was going to break at any moment. She was carrying too much around inside that head of hers, but no matter how many times he asked her to talk to him, she wouldn't do it. His friend was strong and she would never let him see just how much she was hurting. But he knew it was only a matter of time before she would need to talk. He knew he was driving her crazy by hovering over her night and day, but he wanted to be there when she needed him. And to be honest, it gave him something else to think about rather than wallow in his own sadness.
"Do you really believe it was an accident?" Parker asked, breaking the silence with her quiet question.
Ever since the knock on her door the other morning, she'd tried not to dwell on the "accident" they said Milo had been in. But the more she thought about it, everything that went on during the last several months made her doubt everything she'd been told. Milo had been involved in something dangerous. She knew that deep inside her soul. Something was eating away at him, making him secretive and scared and angry. Parker never told Garrett about all of the fights they were having and how angry Milo got when he found her in his office before he left on his final mission. She felt like a fool that the one man she was supposed to trust with her life didn't trust her in return.
"The military said it was an accident, so it was an accident. What would make you question that?" Garrett asked.
She hated keeping something like this from Garrett but it wasn't the time to bring up Milo's flaws. Garrett had always been Milo's champion. It never seemed like the right time to tell Garrett that his best friend had been far from perfect. His funeral definitely wasn't the right time either.
"No reason. I just wondered what you thought. Forget I even asked," Parker replied, turning around to face Garrett.
"Milo never mentioned anything to me about this mission or what it entailed. The last time I talked to him before he died, he never said anything was awry over there. It was an accident. These things happen all the time. You know that."
Garrett wasn't about to mention to Parker that the last time he spoke to Milo, he barely recognized his best friend's voice
. Milo had always been a jokester, a happy guy who never failed to make him laugh by saying something stupid. Garrett couldn't remember ever having a really serious discussion with him - until that phone call. Milo was scared. And he had told Garrett that if something happened to him, it wouldn't be an accident. Milo had ended the cryptic phone call before Garrett could grill him on what the hell he had been talking about.
He had known damn well Milo's death wasn't an accident, but it certainly hadn't been the time to tell Parker. She didn't need one more thing to worry about. He would handle it on his own and hopefully never have to involve her.
Standing there in front of Garrett right then, it hit her that he'd been keeping things from her-very important things.
The fact that she had her own secrets, her own little white lies she weaved into every day conversation to keep the truth from those she loved, didn't matter. That was different. She didn't have a choice.
"What do you mean when you first heard about it? How long have you known this might be a possibility?" she demanded.
Garrett looked away, unable to stand the anguish in her voice and on her face knowing that what he said next would only make it worse.
"I found out they were planning on looking into the mission five months ago."
After several long, quiet minutes, Garrett finally looked at her and didn't like what he saw. She was pissed. At him.
"Don't. Don't do this, Parker. You know damn well there is information that as a civilian, you aren't privy to."
"Fuck you, Garrett!" Parker spat. "I'm not just some civilian. I'm your best friend and he was my..."
Parker trailed off and the sound of the ocean waves just below her condo echoed around them.
"Say it," Garrett growled. He moved closer to her. Every time he was near her, he forgot what they were to each other for just a brief moment. Garrett needed her to punch him back to reality with a good swift kick to the proverbial nuts.
"The love of your life, the man you were going to marry...finish the sentence, Parker."
She clenched her hands into fists, so angry she could scream. She should just say what he wants to hear and wipe that smug look off his face, but she couldn't.
Garrett did this to her all the time. He pushed and then he pulled back. He got close and then he walked away. He was hot and cold and she never knew which end was up or where she stood with him.
Parker loved Milo, but not like she should have. She never called him the love of her life, and it would feel foreign to do so now that he was gone. People liked to glorify the relationship they had with someone after they were gone. They liked to make it sound better than it actually was, maybe to ease the pain in their heart and keep the memory of that person alive. The death of Milo had the opposite effect on Parker. Now that he was gone, all of their differences, all of their problems, and every time he caused her pain became glaringly obvious.
Parker took a step back from Garrett, and he wanted to hit something. He hated that he had to be a dick to her right now but it was necessary.
He never told her that he always had suspicions about Milo's death, and it was a shitty move telling her it was classified information. She wasn't an idiot, and she wouldn't buy it for a minute, but he didn't know what else to do.
"Have you been suspicious all this time? Every time you told me I shouldn't worry about it, were you lying to me? You think you're just going to fly out there and get all the answers and that will make everything better? It's not going to bring him back, Garrett."
"I know that. Don't you think I fucking know that?" Garrett yelled. "I want the truth. I want to know that whoever did this to him is going to pay. I want to stop going to bed every night feeling guilty I wasn't fucking there for him when he needed me."
Parker instantly curbed her anger. Garrett lost his best friend, the one person that had been by his side since he was nine years old. She couldn't be mad at him for wanting to know why he was gone and for doing everything in his power to get answers. It hurt her that he had never told her he didn't believe the "accidental death" explanation, but if she was being honest with herself, there were plenty of things she had been keeping from Garrett as well.
"It's not your fault, Garrett, any more than it is mine."
Garrett didn't say anything to that. He may not have been the one to set off the bomb that killed Milo, but it didn't ease his guilt or take away his feelings of failure.
"So how long will you be gone?" Parker asked softly, looking up into his face and wrapping her arms around herself.
Garrett felt his nerves instantly calm when he saw Parker's anger had been replaced with concern.
Garrett reached out and rubbed his hands up and down her arms to warm her skin.
"As long as it takes."
Garrett received intel that Milo had several meetings with the leader of the Dominican Republic, President Fernandez, the last couple of days before he died. He was going in under the guise of a reporter for Fox News to interview the President about all of his philanthropic accomplishments. Garrett wanted to dig deeper into the mission that killed his best friend by gaining access to information they didn't have in the states. There were rumors that not all of the President's business dealings were legal, and Garrett had a gut feeling the man would know something about what happened to Milo.
Parker shivered but not from the chill in the air. Garrett's hands on her skin always did that to her. His hands encircled her arms and when he touched her, she always felt small and protected.
"At least I'll get to brush up on my interviewing skills," he said with a smirk. He knew he shouldn't have divulged that information, but it was a small detail that wouldn't affect the mission. He had to give her something.
"Wow, interviewing, huh? Did you even make it to any of your journalism classes senior year of college?" Parker teased.
Garrett gave her a heart-stopping smile, and she knew things were going to be okay between them. They were back to their usual friendly banter.
"What did I need to show up to class for when I had you to do my homework?"
Parker just shook her head at him and rolled her eyes.
"You would have never passed that class if it wasn't for me. You're lucky I liked you or I would have made you fend for yourself," she laughed.
"Blasphemy! You would have never been so cruel," Garrett teased. "I am a computer genius; you're the one with the mad literary and public speaking skills. It would have been a crime if you didn't help me."
Parker unhooked her hands from around her waist and placed her palms flat on Garrett's chest. The heat of his skin through his shirt and the feel of his heart beating against her hand was so familiar but still had the ability to make her breath catch.