Blood Bond


IT'S NOT UNTIL WE'VE WOUND OUR WAY THROUGH A maze of living room, dining room, office and kitchen furniture to arrive at the "kids stuff" that David again acknowledges my presence. He's standing in front of a bed shaped like a race car.

"I would have killed for a bed like this when I was a kid." He's running a hand over the frame. "It's not too big for John-John, is it?"

His voice has lost the anger and bitterness of our conversation in the parking lot. I jump at the chance to smooth things over. "I think it's perfect! And John-John makes Lego cars all the time."

David has moved from the bed to an area with rugs and toys. He points to a rug laid out like a racetrack. "Get this, too, and those wooden cars. And that lamp and desk."

He's picking out things faster than I can write the item numbers on an order sheet. IKEA is a big warehouse with the displays in one area and the pickup in another. I start to laugh. "Hold on there, cowboy. I can't keep up."

But David has already moved onto sheets and towels and shower curtains. "That bedroom has its own bathroom, doesn't it?" he asks. When I nod, he starts loading our shopping cart with sheets and towels and a brightly color-splashed shower curtain.

In less than an hour, we have everything. I've never seen David move so fast. I follow along, caught in the undertow of his enthusiasm. It's a side of David new to me. A side I would not have expected.

When we've had everything loaded into the back of the Hummer, and are on our way to my place, I risk igniting the firestorm again.

"What do you and Gloria talk about?" I ask softly.

I wait, shoulders bunched, for the explosion. Instead, David says, "Mostly how her career's going. Where she's going on location next. Who she's dating . . ."

Sounds like Gloria. There's Gloria and then there's the world. "Does she ever ask about what you're doing? Who you're dating?"

"Of course she does," he replies with more than a hint of impatience. "Why do you always assume the worst about her?"

I grunt. Let me count the ways. But instead, I say, "I worry about you where Gloria is concerned. She seems to have some mystical hold on you I've never been able to figure out."

He glances sideways at me. "You mean besides the fact that she's beautiful, famous, rich, an international star and sex with her was-"

"Okay," I interrupt. "TMI." At least he didn't say sex with her is. I regroup. "Which brings me back to the question I asked you before. Where does all this leave Tracey?"

He raises his shoulders in a half shrug. "I told you. I won't hurt Tracey. Gloria is fantasy. Tracey is real. Someone I can rely on to be honest. Someone I can count on."

I shake my head. Does he even know how demeaning that sounds? "Do you think you're being fair to Tracey?"

His jaw sets. "I've always been honest with Tracey. I've never promised her more than I can deliver."

"Maybe not in words, but I see the way she looks at you."

He shrugs again. But we're pulling into the back of the cottage and I have to jump out to open the gate before he can answer. Then we're busy with boxes and packages and I get caught up in the excitement of tackling John-John's room.

David is unloading one of the cartons containing the bed from the Hummer when he asks, "Want some help putting this stuff together?"

His tone is full of eager anticipation. He sounds as enthusiastic as I feel. Who am I to deny him such pleasure? Besides, I looked at one of the instruction sheets. It's written in three dozen languages not one of which was fumble-fingered female. "I'd love it!"

It takes us twenty minutes to unload everything and haul it up the stairs to the second story. I dump the white goods on my bedroom floor and David and I tear yards of bubble wrap and cardboard from the furniture pieces. Then we hunker down and piece the bed together. I read (or interpret) the instructions. Most are stick-figure drawings with one or two words to clarify what you're looking at. Not that David needs much direction. He's got that bed put together and we're standing back admiring it in less time than it took us to buy it.

"How about a beer?" I ask.

"Sounds good." David has wandered over to the open closet. Inside, I'd stashed the cans of paint bought to transform the stuffy adult room to something more to a kid's liking. He's looking at the color swatches. "This is great. Why don't we get started?"

"What? You want to help me paint?"

"Right after that beer."

* * *

I REALIZE, STANDING SIDE BY SIDE WITH DAVID, SWIPING paint rollers of pale yellow over the walls of what's to become John-John's bedroom, how much I've missed doing simple, human things with him. How much I've missed our friendship.

I actually have to swallow down a lump in my throat before I can say, "You know what this reminds me of?"

"Painting our office two years ago," he replies without missing a beat .

I hear the smile in his voice. "You spilled a whole pan full of paint," I say.

"Because you bumped the ladder," he says.

"I did not. You saw a spider in the corner and jumped off the ladder so fast, everything went flying."

A chuckle. "Well, it was a big spider."

I snicker. "We've had some good times."

He's quiet. When I glance over, his shoulders are slumped, that little muscle at the corner of his jaw is jumping.

"What's wrong, David?"

He continues to paint, eyes tracing the swaths of color onto the wall as they appear from the end of his roller.

"If something's wrong, I wish you'd tell me."

His hand pauses in mid-stroke. "Nothing's wrong."

David keeps painting, pushing the roller back and forth. I've stopped painting now and turn to face him. "That's bullshit, David. What is it?"

The silence stretches on. I don't take my eyes off him, fixing him with what I hope is a laser stare until finally he gives in with a growl.

"You've never forgiven me."

My stomach does a small roll. I know exactly where this is coming from. What I did this morning, going after that skip alone, has awakened the dragon. Angry at myself, I blurt, "That's because there's nothing to forgive."

He lays the paint roller down in the pan and wipes his hands slowly and deliberately with a rag. "You know that's not true. Because of me, you were raped and beaten and left to die."

His words are sharp, enunciated carefully with bitter recrimination as he continues.

"Because of me, your life changed. You've had one boyfriend after another. Your family lives halfway around the world. I don't ever see you with friends. I don't ever see you out of the office. You're not the same. And it's because of me."

I can't look at him. My heart aches and my mind is full of things I want to say. Things I should say.

Things I can't say.

I release a long breath, put my paintbrush down alongside his. My hands are trembling when I turn to face him.

"You're right. My life changed that night. But not because of anything you did."

"Because I did nothing," he retorts bitterly. "I was knocked out. Like a fucking amateur. And Donaldson beat you and raped you and would have killed you if someone from that bar hadn't come out to stop him. I don't know how you can stand to look at me. I walk into the office every morning expecting to find your letter of resignation. You should hate me, Anna. It's what I deserve."

He's still looking down at his hands, rubbing them with that rag as if they were the last year and a half and if he scrubbed hard enough, he could wipe them out of existence.

I put my hands over his to stop it. "David." He won't look at me. I take his chin in my hand and lift his face. "None of what happened with Donaldson was your fault. He was on PCP, remember? He surprised both of us. I got over it. I wish you would. It almost sounds as if it would be better for you if I left. Is that really what this is about? You have Tracey now. She's a good partner. Do you want me to go?"

He closes his eyes. "God, no, Anna. The business wouldn't be the same without you. It's just-"

"Then stop. If you want me to say the words, I will. I forgive you. I fucking forgive you. But you know I don't mean it because in my heart, there's nothing to forgive."

That gets a tiny smile from David. The tension breaks. "You make me feel so much better."

I grin, so relieved my knees feel shaky. "It's what I live for. Listen, I know we don't do all the things we used to. It's not because I don't want to, it's because we lead complicated lives. You know all that's happened. First there was Trish and her bitch mother. Then there was all the drama with Gloria. My folks inheriting a winery. You getting kidnapped. I admit my love life hasn't been the most stable. But neither has yours. I think we both have a real chance now at getting it right with Tracey and Frey. Let's put the past away once and for all." I reach up and tweak his cheek. "Think we can do that, big boy?"

That actually elicits a laugh. "God. Now you sound like Tracey."

"Better get used to it."

David sighs and picks up his brush. "Let's get this done. I'm ready for another beer."

"You've got it. And David?"

He looks over, eyebrows quirked.

"You're going to make a great dad."

He grins. "And you're going to make a great stepmom."

We finish in companionable silence. I don't know what David is thinking, but I'm thinking, I should be a novelist. The story I just spun is worthy of a Pulitzer. But David deserves to have that burden of guilt lifted over what happened to me. Only I can ever be aware of the irony. An attack by a "skip" who left me for dead turned out instead to be an attack by a vampire that made me immortal.

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