Time slips through my fingers...
inside my head...
here for a moment...
and is gone...
Tell me (I wanna know where the love's gone)
Where's the love gone?
Cooper left his bike at the curb, stumbled as he stepped away from it, his vision still blurred, the headache a relentless web of pain. He put his hands to his temples and tried to work through this. He could fix it. Beth's voice mail had been frantic, she was taking the responsibility for this cluster fuck, he'd let her take it, make apologies for the misunderstanding, put it back together. No reason she ever had to know about Gemma. He hadn't showered, could Beth smell the sex, smell another woman? Had there been one? He smelled rank but he'd vomited more than once. He was staggering just standing there.
He punched in the security code twice, and twice it failed. Someone had changed it. Swearing quietly, Cooper stepped back, looked up at the house, the second story an illusion toppling on him. He could get in from the back but it wouldn't be easy, and it would mean climbing a fence. He couldn't climb a fence even a fence about a foot tall.
"You should leave." The voice was steady, cool, and close.
Nate stood in the grass near the fountain, his brother a few steps behind him. Both of them had gained height, and they lined up together, blocking the path to the gate and the rear entrance. Weary and anxious, Cooper snarled at his son, "Open the damned door, Nate. I'm not playing games with you."
"You're right," Eric said, striding out in front of his twin, both of them making their way now through blooming shrubbery toward the front door. "You're not playing games with us. Take it somewhere else."
Nate ran one casual hand through his hair, showing teeth, a long cold smile. "Take it back where you put it last night. Maybe she's missing it by now, never can tell, miracles happen. Either way, you're not getting past us."
One long moment of incredulity, incredibility, no, his kid hadn't said that, fuck yeah he had said it, Cooper strode through the damned bush, stomping bush and grass and grabbing his son by the shoulders and slamming him hard against the wall, Nate slipping on the wet grass, head banging on the stone. He heard his son's teeth click together, heard him gasp, his own golden eyes glaring back up at him as he pinned Nate against the wall. "You don't go there with me. Do you understand that?" He tightened his grip, demanded again, "Do you understand me?"
"He might not, but I do."
Beth stood in the watery sunlight, watching him, dark eyed, standing in her own shadow as the sun rose over the roof. Cooper dropped Nate, leaving him staggering against the wall, and turned to face her. She held as much pain and as much fault as he did, holding it in her eyes. The woman who had dragged him up from the shadow and fought to keep him and then turned her face to someone else. Or had she? What was real? Mel said it was nothing like that, and if he looked at everything from even a slightly different angle, he could see, finally saw, an alternate pattern in the picture.
Cooper went to her, looked down at her, seeing the fear, knowing his own. "We need to talk."
Eric, the son named after his own father, always the cooler of the twins, glanced at his shaken brother and then swept blue eyes toward his mother. Waiting. "It's all right," Beth assured him. "We have things we need to settle. Watch the baby for me will you Eric?"
Following her through the door into the shaded foyer, Cooper noticed suitcases ominously stacked in the hall. He started to demand an explanation, rapidly realized there was only one explanation, one he was not going to accept. Nobody was going anywhere.
She walked ahead of him into their bedroom, waited for him, closed and locked the door, walked right past him to the French doors overlooking the terrace and the ocean and asked in a small voice, "Are you all right?"
"A bitch of a headache but I'll live. I guess I have you to thank for that."
"The headache or the life?"
"Little of both baby." Cooper reached out, touched her cheek, she looked like hell, looked as bad as he felt, but she'd probably spent the night crying instead of the way he'd spent it.
Drawing a long breath, uncertain what to say, what would be enough, he started in on it. "Beth, I'm sorry. I should not have said that to you, never meant it, I should not have left you there, I'm an ass. I fucked up."
She hesitated, then took a careful and deliberate step away from him, staying out of reach. Ready for it, prepared for the crack of her anger, it didn't come. Tracing something invisible on the glass with the tip of one finger, her voice still, quiet, expression remote, she seemed to force herself to even ask the question. "What made you change your mind?"
He cast a glance at the bed, exhaustion shaking him. If he could put this all aside for a few hours, get her in bed, get some sleep, he'd be better prepared to deal with an ugly explanation, an explanation that was never going to include Gemma, he couldn't even begin to think how he was going to deal with that. Leaning against the wall for some small support, Cooper considered it, he had to tell her something, "Mel told me Ryan was there with her. She explained what happened, you weren't there with Ryan, he's working for her, something like that, I went over there and she explained..."
The reaction he was waiting for didn't happen. Beth opened the doors and walked out onto the terrace and the blast of sunlight and water. "I owe her then."
Stunned, the last time Mel and her whorehouse had come up, she'd blown the roof off. Cooper walked after her, squinting into the light, pain ripping through his head, he stiffened trying to fight it, reaching out for her, catching her around her waist, pulling her against him, her body pliant and warm and he could breathe again, it was going to work. "Beth, it doesn't mean anything, you know that. Baby I'm wiped. My head's killing me, every bone and muscle in my body aches. I want to talk, we need to talk but I just need a couple of hours. I'll do anything to make things up to you, anything you want. I'm so damned sorry, baby I love you, you know I love you."
She took his hand, lacing her fingers through his, the clasp gentle, but she was trembling, shaking. "You don't understand. I'm the one who cheated. I've tried, Coop I've tried so hard to make you know it will never happen again, that I regret it, but nothing works. It's broken. It can't be fixed. I can't fight about this anymore. The suitcases by the door, they're yours. You need to take them, you need to cut your losses, and you need to go. I love you, I love you so much, but it's over."
NEXT CHAPTER: Sessions Chapter 32