Amber’s breathing moved with the same hypnotic motion of the sea. The sound push-pulled Ben as he teetered on the edge of consciousness. Oh, how he wanted to pitch face first into sleep and lose himself in oblivion for just a few hours. Free from thinking about what Amber had said and everything Helena expected to hear.
A golden fissure glowed in the crack between the curtains and he imagined the dawn stealing in. Seeking him out. Exposing him for what he was.
And he deserved it.
He’d told Helena, just one night to sort Amber out.
Now, oh Christ.
Amber slept against him, head on his shoulder. Sour breath grazed his neck. He extracted his numb arm, climbed out of the tangle of sheets and stood naked at the window watching morning creep across the city. The rising sun lit the curled wisps of clouds in such a way it looked like fire rolling across the bay.
A pending immolation of the guilty, he thought and pulled the curtains closed.
He could anticipate Helena’s response to his news: She’d tell you anything to keep you. In his head he argued back: You would lie to keep me but not Amber, adding after a moment, you can’t fake this.
In the dark he could pretend Amber’s skin wasn’t stretched grey over her cheekbones and the heavy shadows of her eye sockets were just jet lag. And her missing hair was the result of a charity shave-off. In the dark he could reimagine her as she was in the photos: radiant and perfect. Everything he’d wanted and believed he didn’t deserve.
It took several minutes to find his jeans—boxer shorts twisted into them—and dig his phone out of his pocket. In the bathroom, with the light off to avoid the police line up of Amber’s pill bottles on the vanity, he sat on the toilet and stared at his phone.
He could take a photo of the pills and send it to Helena as proof. See, not faking.
What was he thinking? He wasn’t thinking at all.
Sun spilled through the small window above him. The longer he sat, the heavier and sweatier the phone became. It wasn’t difficult. All he had to do was turn it back on and tell Helena it was over. He didn’t even have to call her. Just send a text and admit he’d used her while he waited for Amber to come back online. For her to finish whatever it was she had to do without him. But he couldn’t. Because he wasn’t sure that was the truth.
Last night he’d gone to the airport primed to rip it through Amber for the way she’d played him, and finally move on. But that was before she’d smiled and kissed him and told him she could explain everything. Before he’d held her, real and alive, skin against skin.
Before she’d told him she was dying.
The next part of 24 will be available here at 8am.