I had packed a bathing suit and a bikini, assuming I’d spend some time in a hotel pool during the trip—I didn’t think I’d wear the latter lounging on a beach at the French Riviera, surrounded by rich people doing the same, sipping cocktails and generally enjoying life. It makes me feel a bit guilty to think of Emilia and her kids. At the same time, I’m glad she came onto Carter’s radar and she, we, were able to help Emilia get out. It doesn’t matter how it happened.
The thought of Haley makes me uneasy as well. She didn’t send any new text messages after I’d told her we’d talk when I’d be back.
Carter appears next to me, gorgeous and dripping. “Don’t you want to go in again? It’s fantastic.” Everything physical makes her feel better. I’m glad I’m part of that process.
“In a few maybe. Look, Carter…don’t you think I could tell Haley?”
She wraps herself in a towel and sits on the lounger next to me. “Tell her what?”
“Everything. What you did for me, and Emilia…I hate that she thinks you might have done something bad. You’re a good person. There’s a reason why I love you, and why I chose to marry you. They’re my best friends. They should know.” Apparently, even with the shade from the big parasol, I’ve had a little too much of alcohol in the sun.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Carter says carefully, as if expecting me to protest.
I don’t know if I will. I bring up these subjects every once in a while knowing she will rationally deconstruct any point I might have, and she’s right. Something might slip out. I still don’t know much about her rescue operations, but she must have some sort of network to pull them off. Any information getting out could endanger those operations. I sigh.
“Yeah, I’m not sure either. They have the wrong idea about you though. I don’t like it.”
“I can live with it as long as they don’t call the police…and as long as you like me.”
“So am I.”
I shake my head, laughing despite myself. “I do like you. A lot. You should know that by now.”
“I do,” she says, taking my hand and holding it tightly. “You came back to me, even when there was no obligation. That’s the best gift anyone has ever given to me.”
There must be a grain of sand that somehow got into my eye, because all of a sudden, the world is suspiciously blurry.
I feel better when we head back to the hotel, shower and change for a light dinner in the hotel restaurant. Late at night, with Carter asleep beside me, I reflect on what my life has become. As amazing as this trip has been so far, I can’t wait to be home and back to what passes as normal for us…the odd circumstances of our first days together, the reunion, the wedding,
happened so fast. It’s tough, near impossible, to slow down life by her
side—and I will get used to it, because my place is right here, with her. Consoled
by those thoughts, I snuggle close to her, and she reaches out for me even in
her sleep. I love to be married.
After breakfast, we visit a casino, and I surprise both of us by winning 500 Euros.
“I have more luck in love,” Carter says with an affectionate, somewhat indulgent smile when I wave the bills at her. Silly woman, worth a three-digit number of billions, she’s not all that unlucky when it comes to gambling either.
“Let’s go burn this,” she suggests. “Would you like to go shopping?”
“Shopping? For what? I have a ton of clothes in my closet.”
“For fun.” I think I must have a deer-in-the-headlights expression on my face, as she lays a hand on my arm. “Breathe. We can just look at things, and if you want something new, you can always give some away. You’re at the source, you and Traci can look into some organizations that accept donations. As long as they’re not spending money on anti-gay BS, it’s all good.”
“Okay. Yes. I will do that once we’re home.”
When we’re home, I’ll also be back to full-time working and studying, and maybe I’ll feel a little more like I deserve any of this. Doubts remain.
“You have to pace yourself,” Carter suggests when I look at myself in the mirror in the small but exclusive boutique. “It’s just one dress. We’re not going to run out of money, so breathe, relax.”
The colorful sundress and the white hat go perfectly together. The saleslady waits anxiously at a distance, hoping for her commission, and I finally take the outfit, willing to make a bag for a donation when we’re back. Or two. Or more.
Sometimes it’s still hard to believe that all those items are actually mine to do with as I please. I’m not locked in anymore. It takes longer getting used to than I expected, like all my life before Carter is nothing but a distant dream. Grow with the challenge. I can do that, right?
She pays for the purchases without even blinking, tells the saleslady to add a pair of white and gold sandals in my size.
“You can do something for me when we’re back at the hotel,” she whispers. “Are you up for a little play?”
I could try to say no to her for once, but where would be the fun in that? Of course I am. I envision blindfolds and cuffs in my future, but this is not Carter’s fantasy when we’re back in the hotel.
“The last few days made me think about how we first met in person, and I kept thinking about it…So I was wondering if you were willing to wear this for me one more time.”
My jaw drops as she opens the closet door and produces a very familiar piece of clothing. “Where…did you get that?”
“I bought it from the manager. I said it was a surprise, because this was the place where we met.”
I shake my head, laughing. I don’t know what to make of this, but of course I do remember the moment lightning struck, before I knew who she was, or that she was going to leave me a $1000 tip. Or that she’d already planned to take me to a faraway place for my protection—which I didn’t learn right away. Besides all her honest motives, Carter has some sort of obsession with me, and I’m basking in it.
“You want me to wear this. Right now. You don’t expect me to go out for dinner like that?”