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How to even attempt to describe such intimacy? The touch of bodies. The slide of limbs twining together, and the play of virgin morning light on skin. Air shared between lovers, and the vigorous dance of hands and mouths. That strong, familiar curve of a man’s body, standing straight, naked and looking out a window at the rising sun. A woman lying alone in a bed, white sheets tangled hopelessly around legs too languorously heavy to move. The cock of his hip leaning against the sill, sipping his coffee, completely at ease and unconcerned with whomever might spot him down below. A tiny slit at the crack of one of her eyes, before they closed once again, not quite ready to be in his presence. He knew. He let her be. He waited for her, and while he did, he marveled at the joyous warmth of peace.

Forcing herself to get out of the bed and smooth the sheets and blanket, she returned to the bathroom. From the drawers and cupboards, she filled the duffel bag with spare contact lenses and cleaning solution, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, a toothbrush, a shaving kit, a manicure set, and other supplies on the list he’d excitedly given her along with the address and passcode.

She went to the mirrors on the wall in the bedroom. The glass was clean except for a fingerprint in the middle panel. When she put her own finger on it, and the glass turned from reflective to transparent, and a light came on inside the closet. When she pushed on the door, it slid open, and she took in the rows and rows of neatly arranged clothes. There were jackets, suits and sweaters and button-down shirts. Inside the wall of the closet were drawers containing ties, scarves, underwear and drawstring pyjamas with concert tee-shirts. A long, narrow drawer with built-in padding had cufflinks in all sorts of colours and settings, and expensive looking watches. Above, on the shelves, were boxes. Stretching on her toes, she grabbed one, and lifted the lid. Photo albums. Jackpot.

Sitting at the foot of the bed, she flipped through. Ben had been all around the world, always surrounded by a different set of people no matter the setting. Hotels, clubs, construction sites, classrooms, tourist attractions. His brilliant smile met her on every page. The men and women he kissed in the photos seemed completely enthralled by his charm. They were passionate, silly, excited, and carefree, often in various states of undress without an ounce of shame. They toasted with glasses, bottles, needles – posed with pills between their teeth. And always, Ben was the centre. They looked like they wanted to crawl into his skin. They had that need to bask in his light, to chase out all the darkness. She realized she was smiling at the pictures, instinctively responding to the radiance in his face.

All those people. Hundreds? Yet none of them were here. He didn’t get any visitors other than her and Jake. He was making friends with all the staff at the hospital, charming them with his good looks and charisma, but Lanie had the feeling that he would walk through the smoke of those casual relationships too. All those people, and yet he pursued Lanie like she was the last woman on earth. Why? 

She kept flipping backward in time, stopping to stare in wonder at a picture of him with no beard and only an inch of black hair on his head. He was probably in his mid-twenties. She tilted her head. If it wasn’t for those eyes and dimples, he was almost unrecognizable.

One more flip, and Lanie’s heart caught in her throat.

Ben was in Mexico. He was in his early twenties, his hair not quite as long as it was now, but before that buzz cut. His tee shirt with the charity logo stretched over his shoulders and stomach. On the opposite page was a group photo of what seemed to be a university class next to a partially-constructed church. At least thirty students and two profs. Ben was in the back, taller than everyone else, and just in front of him was a woman that Lanie recognized with instant shock.

Shiny mahogany hair. Piercing blue eyes. A serene smile and creamy, pale pink skin. Lilah Anderson. The daughter of the Los Salvadores pastor who had taken over the church a few years after Ben had left, during Lanie’s sophomore year. One year ahead of Lanie in school, Lilah had left for college, just like Ben, but she’d returned for the summer. Lilah hadn’t stopped talking about that trip to Mexico, but never mentioned any men with striking eyes.

Never in a million years would she have guessed that Lilah would somehow find the boy that Lanie still pined for. By the time Lilah met him, he was a man about to enter his first graduate program. A man who wasn’t looking at the camera like everyone else, but down at the woman, his hand resting on her shoulder.

Here was what had been missing in the other photos where Ben embraced all those other people: jealousy.

Sure, Ben looked at those in the other photos with passion. Affection. They were entwined with each other, pressed against each other like they were one massive body. But the look in Ben’s eyes when he looked at Lanie’s former best friend, touching nothing more than her shirt, was nothing short of devotion. Adoration. Ben had been in love with that woman.

Well, sure he was. Lilah was great. Funny and smart, beautiful and kind. She was the quintessential pastor’s kid. Lanie, on the other hand, was the kind of person who stole guitars from a church so that she could siphon joy from Ben while he played.  Everyone at school had been in love with Lilah, so who could blame him? Not a big deal. Ben deserved to be with someone like her.

What had happened to their relationship, though?

With slightly trembling fingers, Lanie touched the picture, right where Ben was touching Lilah, before flipping further back in time. There was a drastic difference in the pictures now. These ones were as tame as puppies. Ben showing off his new name tag at an architectural firm in Calgary. Graduation photos from his undergrad program. School trips to places around the world where he would return years later for his orgies and drug binges. His eyes were clearer in these photos, and the frenetic energy was missing. He looked peaceful in a way that Lanie had rarely seen.

Her mind clicked on something, and she flipped forward again to pictures of his graduation. There was Ben with his engineering ring, and he was posed with someone else that Lanie knew. Belsito.

Miranda, Donia, and Tino Santos.

Lanie flashed back to a conversation she and Ben had during the construction of the school. “I had this one foster family, they were from Argentina. The Santos family. I stayed there for almost two years before I aged out of the system. My foster sister, Miranda, made fun of me all the time for my bad Spanish, but refused to try and learn any Arabic. How twisted is that? Then I decided to do my first undergrad in Mexico, in a Mexican university, and let me tell you, they don’t make them like they do in Mexico –”

Santos. From Argentina. The name hadn’t done anything for her back then. She’d met dozens of people with that last name. And Bel’s family was Columbian, not Argentinian.

Miranda. Santos.

How was it that so many people from her town were so entangled in this mystery? But could Ben possibly have had anything to do with the secret side of the Santos law practice? He had so many Ferami products. It wasn’t possible, was it, that he was connected to her family business in some way? Jake had claimed he was on some sort of protective detail for Ben. Ben knew the Santos family, and they were connected to the Ferami black market in a way that only she and her grandfather knew about.

And he was also connected to Lilah. One of the few people who knew the secret of her junior year. Most of the people at her church knew. But Ben had been long-gone by the time her life had blown apart. Something wasn’t adding up. Or maybe too many things were adding up. Either way, she had a feeling that Jake could explain the math to her. As long as he didn’t realize he was explaining it. And she had to find a way to talk to Bel and Ben without them knowing that she was onto them. All three of those men had things to answer for.

Thanks for Stopping by!

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13


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