Authors: Kathryn Thomas
Erik smiled. “That’s the thing,” he said. “I’m not turning my back on it. I’m going to give it to someone I trust, someone I know will care for it as lovingly as my parents did.”
Holly frowned. With the exception of the few workers who took care of the vineyard, she had not seen anyone stop by the house in the three weeks that she had spent there. It didn’t look like Erik had many friends or trusted people in his life, at least not in San Francisco.
“Like who?” she asked curiously.
“Like Matt. And you.”
Holly stared at him in shock. She couldn’t quite wrap her mind around what he had just said. “Uh…
?” she finally spluttered.
“Why not?” Erik said. “Matt has clearly fallen in love with vineyard work, and the cottage is the perfect place for an artist to work.”
Holly continued to stare. Erik spoke in careless tones, like entrusting his parents’ lifelong dream into her and Matt’s hands was the most natural choice in the world. She could see how he would trust Matt, but how could he just give the place over to someone he had only met three weeks ago? “You hardly know me,” she said pointedly.
“True,” Erik admitted. “But what I know is enough. I trust you, Holly. And I think it goes without saying that I trust Matt with my life. You’re looking for a place to start a life, I’m looking for a way out. Why shouldn’t we help each other?”
“I…” Holly trailed off. Why, indeed? Still, she felt overwhelmed with the enormity of his gesture. “I’m speechless,” she admitted. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Just say yes. Say you’re on board if Matt is.”
Holly frowned. “Have you talked to him about this already?”
“No,” Erik said quickly. “Not yet. I’ll do it tonight if you tell me you’re in.”
Holly thought about it…and then she wondered why on Earth she was even questioning this. “Yes,” she said. “I’m in. I…God, Erik. Thank you.”
Erik smiled, relieved. He reached out to squeeze her hand warmly. “No. Thank
Holly laughed happily as huge amounts of tension she didn’t even know she was holding suddenly whooshed out of her body. “I can’t wait to tell Matt! He’ll be thrilled.”
Holly blinked. She had imagined a number of different responses from Matt, but they had all been of the positive kind, and they most definitely involved a can-do kind of attitude. Erik and her had just walked through the door with a bag of Chinese food and Erik’s proposal. Holly had known the minute she had laid eyes on Matt that something was off, but she had chalked it up to tiredness from working in the vineyard—working outside was rewarding, but it could also be exhausting.
Now, halfway through servings of
dumplings, Erik had made his proposition, and Matt had said, “I can’t.”
Both Erik and Holly stared at him in shocked surprise.
“I don’t understand,” Erik said.
Holly secretly agreed.
Matt sighed. “I said, I can’t.”
“But why not? I thought you liked working in the vineyard.”
“I do. But I can’t take over. Not now, at least.” He hesitated. “I have to go back.”
He shot a quick look at Holly, and then he swiftly looked away, avoiding eye contact. Holly’s stomach clenched accordingly. She had the feeling something horrible was going on.
“Go back where?” Erik said. His blue eyes widened. “Texas?”
Matt nodded guiltily. He looked down at his plate.
Holly suddenly felt like throwing up. There were a million questions she wanted to ask, but it was as if though a rock had taken residence in her throat. She couldn’t get any sounds out.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Once again, Erik voiced her exact thought. “I thought you hated that place.”
“I do,” Matt said. His voice had gone very soft.
“Then what are you doing?”
Holly could have kicked herself. She cursed her insecurities that, after more than six months and after all they had been through together, still led her to believe that Matt could one day just up and leave her with no warning whatsoever. Of course this was about his sister. She was the only one he would ever go back to Texas for.
“What happened, Matt?” she asked apprehensively.
Matt licked his lips nervously. “Joe called. She’s back in the hospital. She took a turn for the worse. She’s asking about me.” He looked up at her, and the pain shining naked and raw in his green eyes cut her like a knife. “I have to go see her.”
Holly was nodding even before he had finished his sentence. She reached out across the table to grasp his hand. “Of course you do. Do you want me to come with you?”
Matt shook his head. “It’s something I have to do on my own.”
Holly nodded. She understood.
“I’m sorry, Matt,” Erik said. “I had no idea things were so bad. I thought she was doing much better.”
“She was. I don’t know what happened. I guess cancer is just unpredictable…” Matt took a shaky breath. It was clearly taking all that he had to keep himself together. “Joe called earlier today. I’ve booked a flight out for tomorrow at noon. When I get back, we can discuss your offer. Right now, however, I can’t deal with anything else. Becky needs me.”
“I understand,” Erik said immediately. “Go be with your sister, we’ll wait for you.”
Holly felt an inexplicable surge of annoyance at his use of the “we” pronoun. She was sure he had not meant anything by it, and yet that one little word scraped like sandpaper across her nerves and left her skin crawling.
The rest of the meal was a somber affair. Matt ate way less than his usual and eventually excused himself. Holly watched as he walked out of the kitchen’s back door and disappeared outside. She sighed heavily. She was only able to let a few minutes pass by before she stood as well.
“I’m going to go check on him.”
The night air was humid and chilly, and Holly briefly wished she had the chance to run back into the house and grab a sweater. However, there were more pressing matters at hand. She found Matt walking amongst the green aisles of the vineyard, a lone figure with slumped shoulders and bowed head. She could feel his sorrow like a physical thing. She caught up quickly with him and took his hand. He froze and turned to look at her, and in the light cast by the full moon, Holly was shocked to see that he had been crying. She didn’t think she had ever saw him in cry in all of the almost seven months that they had spent together.
There were a thousand words she wanted to say, but even in her young age of twenty-one years, she was wise enough to know that none of them would be appropriate. So she didn’t say anything. She merely wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close. Matt’s knees buckled underneath him, and Holly followed him to the ground. The soil was moist, but she didn’t care.
They sat in the light of the full moon and the shadow of the grapevines for minutes, Matt crying silently and Holly quite literally holding him together. It took a while for him to finally calm down enough that he was able to pull back and wipe his tears from his face. He gave her a tremulous, embarrassed smile.
“I’m sorry,” he said, sniffling audibly.
“What are you sorry about?”
“Well…this,” he gestured to his tears-streaked face. “It’s not exactly manly.”
Holly snorted. “I don’t buy into that bullshit,” she said vehemently. “If you need to cry, you cry, and to hell with your gender.”
Matt chuckled weakly. He sat back more comfortably on the wet ground and looked up at the clear sky with its full moon and millions of stars.
“It sure is beautiful out here,” he said quietly.
“Yeah, it is,” Holly agreed easily, finding a comfortable position of her own.
Matt cast a sideways glance at her. “What do you think of Erik’s proposal?”
Holly blinked, surprised that he was willing to discuss it now. “I think it’s a great idea,” she said honestly. “What do
Matt was silent for a few moments. Then he turned to look at her, and he smiled a peaceful smile despite what was currently going on in his life. “I think I really like the idea of you and me settling down here. I like imagining you painting in those rooms, and I like to imagine me working in this vineyard for a very long time to come.”
Holly stared at her. She had not expected this kind of involvement or that kind of passion in his voice. “It’s a nice image,” she agreed quietly.
“I love you, Holly.” Matt’s green eyes were dark in the moonlight, and they were staring impossibly deep into her own irises.
Holly swallowed past the sudden rush of emotion. “I love you, too.”
He reached out to cup her nape, and he pulled her close for a long, slow kiss. He tasted like tears and promises. Holly could only hope that all those promises would be kept.
“Are you going to be okay here while I’m gone?” He asked once they pulled apart.
Holly smiled. “I’ll be all right. I’ll have Erik to look after me.” For some reason, that prospect didn’t fill her with as much reassurance as it probably was supposed to, but she felt like it was something Matt needed to hear.
Sure enough, he relaxed visibly. “Good. I’m glad you guys are getting along.”
“Yeah.” Holly wasn’t so sure. All that positive feelings she had gained towards Erik during their day at the museum had rapidly dissipated over dinner, and she had no clue whatsoever as to how or why. She dismissed those thoughts however, and she forced herself to focus on Matt. “We should go to bed now,” she said. “You’ll need to get up early tomorrow in order to get ready for your trip.” She hesitated. “Promise you’ll call me while you’re away? I know you have to, but I don’t like the idea of you going back to that place by yourself.”
Matt smiled fondly. He reached out to lovingly tuck an errant strand of white-blond hair behind her ear. “I promise. I’ll call you every day.”
Holly smiled, slightly relieved to know that she would be hearing from him on a steady basis. “Good. Thank you.”
“You don’t have to thank me. I’ll be needing to hear your voice too.” He kissed her swiftly, then he got to his feet and held out a hand to her.
Holly took it and let herself be hauled upward.
Back in the house, in their room, she watched with a heavy heart as Matt packed his rucksack. She didn’t like the thought of watching him leave, even if she knew he had to go. It wasn’t just the awful circumstances that were taking him away from her to make her uncomfortable; for some reason, she also felt quite uneasy about spending an indefinite amount of time alone with Erik in the same house.
She kept her doubts to herself, of course. Not only did Matt not need to hear about her paranoia at the moment, she also wouldn’t know where to begin to explain it. After all, she hardly understood it herself. How could she possibly talk about it to anyone else, especially Matt, who adored and worshipped Erik?
Holly pushed all of her doubts and fears away. When Matt was done packing, they got ready for bed and slid together underneath the cool sheets and warm covers. They turned off the lights, and Holly held Matt close in the dark. She knew it would take him even longer than usual to fall asleep tonight, but she was determined to stay awake and alert until he did. She didn’t want to leave him alone even for a minute, even if it was just by drifting off to dreamland.
She stroked his nape, her fingers trailing through his tousled black hair. Slowly, gradually, she felt him relax against her. She wished she could spare him this new sorrow that had come into his life. Hadn’t the man been through enough? And just when he was finally finding some peace after years of suffering.
Holly shuddered to think of what would happen to Matt if Becky did not make it. She was the only family he had left. She was his everything, long before Holly came along. She knew that if Becky lost her battle against brain cancer, Matt would be destroyed. She knew the Matt she had come to know and love would disappear, maybe for good. She knew he would lose himself, and there would be nothing she or anyone else could to bring him back.
That prospect was too awful to contemplate. Holly pushed those gloomy thoughts away and tried to focus on emitting as many positive vibes as she could. From the little Matt had told her about her, Becky was a strong woman. She had survived an abusive childhood, a drug addict mother, foster homes. She had survived the never ending agony of having her brother shipped off to some of the hottest war zones on the planet, never knowing if she would hear from him from one day to the next or even see him again. Holly could not believe all of Becky’s struggles for a better life were meant to end in a hospital bed at the age of thirty-one. She just could not,
Becky would make it, and Matt would come back to her, and everything would be all right.
She tried to do what Matt had done earlier that night and picture their life in this cottage in the hills outside of San Francisco. It was a wonderful picture indeed.
Holly spent the rest of the night struggling with sleep, tossing and turning even while she managed to get some shuteye, only to wake up a relatively short time later. Eventually, around five-thirty in the morning, she decided enough was enough; there was no way she was getting any rest.
She checked on Matt to make sure he was sound asleep, knowing that he would need all the rest he could get now as he probably would get none later, and then she slid noiselessly out of bed. She grabbed her robe and put it on, and she padded quietly out of the room, carefully closing the door behind her.
The house was silent. The sky was pink with the light of the upcoming dawn. It would have been a beautiful morning if it weren’t for what she knew the day had in store. Sighing, Holly made a quick stop to the bathroom to brush her teeth and splash her face, which always served to wake her up and make her feel human again whenever she’d had a restless night.