Conversations swirled around him, things he would normally have been a part of but as he overheard snippets from here and there he became increasingly aware of how life had continued for all of them. It seemed wrong to resent them for it, but he did—fiercely. The uninterrupted way their lives had moved on after Bree only made his empty world so much more hollow—the void in his heart echo that much more.
He looked to Catherine to see how she was coping. This had to be hard for her, too, but she appeared to be taking it all in her stride—not afraid to shed a tear or two over a shared memory or a hearty laugh at some reminiscence, and eager to hear everyone’s news after her monthlong absence from the playgroup. She looked up and caught his gaze and he could see the concern reflected in her eyes—eyes that were very like Ruby’s and reminded him so much of Bree.
And there it was again—the pain, the loss, the anger at having all that perfection torn away from him. Having choice removed from his hands. Losing Bree from his life, forever. Catherine pushed herself to her feet and, adeptly using one crutch, crossed the short distance between them. She laid one hand on his shoulder.
“She’d have loved this, wouldn’t she? Alexis has done a great job.”
“Everyone contributed,” he said abruptly.
“But Alexis brought us all together. We needed that. It’s been long overdue. I know I’m always going to miss her, it would be impossible not to, but I feel better today, y’know?”
He nodded because it seemed to be the response she expected, but inside he was screaming. No, he didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. This was all too hard. He couldn’t find it in him to allow himself to enjoy the company of everyone here today. He needed space, silence, solitude. The moment Catherine’s attention was taken by one of the guests he slipped out the room and toward the front door. Once he had it open he walked through the entrance and kept going into the night—down the unsealed lane that led to the winery, past the winery and on down the hill until he could go no farther unless he wanted to swim the inky dark waters of the harbor.
He waited until the moon was high in the sky before he clambered back up the hill. The cold air had filtered through his clothing, his long-sleeved cotton shirt—fine in the centrally heated interior of the house—was totally unsuited to the outdoors. Initially he’d barely noticed it. Now, however, he was frozen through and through.
The outside lights were still on at the house when he got back but, he noted with relief, the large parking bay outside was devoid of cars. He slipped back inside and decided to go directly to his room. He had no wish to see Alexis and face her silent or, more likely, not-so-silent recriminations for ditching the party this evening. He just wanted to be alone. Couldn’t anyone understand that?
“Raoul? Is that you?”
Alexis, dish towel still in hand, stepped out of the kitchen and into the hallway. He halted in his tracks—frozen like a possum in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. She was the last person he wanted to face right now.
“Are you okay?”
He gave a bitter laugh. “Okay? No, Alexis, I’m not okay.”
He turned to head to his room but heard her rapid footfall on the carpeted floor behind him. She put out a hand to arrest his progress.
“I’m sorry, Raoul. Maybe organizing today wasn’t such a good idea,” she said as she drew nearer.
He wheeled around. “You think?”
He could see his response stung her but he wasn’t into mouthing platitudes so others could just blithely go on doing what they did without consideration for how it made anyone else feel.
“I told you that you asked too much,” he growled.
“I know—now, at least. And I am sorry, Raoul. Everyone understood, though, especially today with it being Bree’s birthday. It was bound to be hard. Even for me. Look, I know how you feel—”
“Do you?” he said incredulously. “Do you really? I don’t think so. I don’t think that for a minute you could ever understand how I feel so don’t presume to try.”
“You weren’t the only one who lost her,” she said, her voice small.
“She was my wife!” His voice shook, with fury and with something more that rolled and swirled inside him—filling his mind with a black emptiness that threatened to consume him. “She was my world,” he whispered fiercely before striding the short distance to his room where he slammed the door solidly behind him, uncaring as to whether or not he disturbed Ruby.