Last Summer

Last Summer by Kerry Lonsdale




PROLOGUE





INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT EXCERPT


August 18, 2018

Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco, CA Interviewer: Ella Skye, Senior Features Writer, Luxe Avenue magazine Interviewee: Amira Silvers, Academy Award–winning Actress [Continuation of Recording]



Amira: My mother always preached that the more bite marks on your tongue, the happier your marriage.

Ella: What did she mean by that?

Amira: Marital success isn’t measured by what you share with your spouse. It’s what you don’t. Are you married, Ella?

Ella: Yes. For three years.

Amira: What’s your husband’s name?

Ella: Damien Russell.

Amira: That’s right. Isn’t he that rich tech entrepreneur who built a company to compete directly with his father’s? I thought I read that somewhere.

Ella: I wouldn’t exactly put it that way.

Amira: Hmm. Are you happy?

Ella: With Damien? Very much.

Amira: Then take my advice. Hold your tongue. You won’t end up like me.

Ella: You recently divorced. It was all over the tabloids but you haven’t talked to anyone until now. What happened?

Amira: I learned that my mother was right. Funny how that happens. I said too much to Harry, simple as that.

Ella: Care to elaborate?

[Pause]

Ella: I know this must be difficult for you to talk about, but—

Amira: No, I wouldn’t have asked you here if I didn’t want to tell you.

Ella: Take your time.

[Pause]

Amira: I was fourteen when my stepfather sold me to pay off his debts to his drug dealer. I spent six months in forced prostitution until the authorities raided the house where they kept me and six other girls locked up.

Ella: Jesus.

Amira: The day I turned eighteen, I left home and never looked back. I legally changed my name and buried my past. I told no one about what I’d gone through until the day I told Harry.

Ella: How long had you been married?

Amira: Five years.

Ella: Why did you tell him?

Amira: Guilt. I hated keeping secrets from him.

Ella: How did Harry react?

Amira: Oh, he was sympathetic until he started to change.

Ella: How so?

Amira: It was subtle at first. He’d tense when I’d hug him. Then he stopped initiating sex, and eventually the sex just stopped. He could barely look at me when he served the divorce papers. He claimed that when he closed his eyes and kissed me, all he could see were the dozens of faceless men who had had their hands on me.

Ella: What an asshole. [Pause] Sorry, that was uncalled for.

Amira: You’re right. He’s an asshole. And shame on me, I still love the fucker. I want to forget . . .

[Pause]

Ella: What do you want to forget?

[Pause]

Ella: Are you all right?

Amira: [Crying] Yes . . . I mean, no.

Ella: Do you need a moment? [Pause] No? All right, then, can you tell me what it is you want to forget?

Amira: Everything. What happened to me and what I told Harry. I want to forget that I love the asshole, and I want to forget him. I know how to do it, too.

Ella: You what?

[Pause]

Amira: Turn that thing off.

[End Recording]





CHAPTER 1

November 2018

“Ella.”

A soft murmur comes from somewhere beyond her dreams. Her name.

“Ella.”

Another whisper.

Damien.

He says her name again. It draws her from the depths of slumber. She was dreaming. Dreaming about . . . what?

Biting tongues and keeping secrets.

“Ella, sweetheart. Wake up.”

Her eyes flutter open. She looks up into her husband’s blue-grays, the whites of his eyes bloodshot. Her heart goes out to him. He must be working late nights again. She tries to recall which client is giving him difficulty: the new commercial bank in Atlanta or the social media company based in London touting itself as the Facebook for the iGen? But she doesn’t know. Her mind is blurry, a camera lens that can’t focus.

Damien leans over her. Dark whiskers dust his jaw. Locks just as dark sweep back from his forehead. He’s been running his fingers through the thick mass. He does that when he’s stressed. And worried. He’s definitely worried. Why? And why are his jeans rumpled and shirt crinkled? That’s not like him. He looks like he hasn’t showered in days.

With a quick glance over his shoulder, he shoots her a conspiratorial smile, a flash of straight teeth. He drops a white bakery bag on a food cart. “I got you an omelet, as promised.”

When did he promise that?

And where did that food cart come from?

Ella looks past her husband’s looming form and her heart stalls. Stark walls surround them in a box-shaped room. Lysol and antiseptic cling to the air. The drone of unfamiliar voices penetrates the closed door. A door she doesn’t recognize.

This isn’t their bedroom.

Ella inhales harshly through her nose, the chemical smell burning the back of her throat. Her chest rapidly rises and falls as her gaze bounces around the hospital room. How did she get here? Why is she here? And why is Damien acting as if waking her up here isn’t surprising? Doesn’t he realize where they are?

Damien removes a cardboard take-out container with a Luna’s Café sticker from the bag. Luna’s is their favorite café around the corner from their Russian Hill flat. They eat there most Saturdays. Ella frowns. What day is it?

Saturday. She’s sure of it, because last night was Friday. She cooked Damien dinner.

Damien opens the box, bending back the flaps. Steam rises, carrying the scent of cooked onions and bell peppers. Ella’s stomach turns over. He positions the food tray over the bed. Ella instinctively recoils, scooting out of the way. Jagged pain tears through her lower abdomen. Her left wrist throbs from putting pressure on it. She gasps, a sharp, audible intake of air.

“Easy now.” Damien presses a button on a panel attached to the bed rail. Slowly, the head of the bed rises. Ella stares at her splinted wrist. She slips her other hand under the covers, searching for the source of discomfort as her husband adjusts pillows behind her shoulders. Gauze and tape over her pelvic region meet her wandering fingers.

“What happened to me?”

Damien gives her a tired smile. His fingers lovingly caress her cheek. “Relax.” He points at the food in front of her. “Eat up before Nurse Grouchypants catches a whiff and makes me toss it.”

She watches the steam diminish as the omelet cools. She turns her face away, sickened by the smell.

Damien pops open his oatmeal. He shovels a spoonful of the ungarnished oats into his mouth. He eats his oatmeal plain, and he’s eating ravenously. Ella wonders when he last ate. When did she last eat? Did she even eat the dinner she cooked?

He glances up to find her watching him.

“Aren’t you hungry? You’ve hardly eaten this week.”

This week?

Damien nudges the food tray closer to her. “You need your strength to recover.”

Recover from what?

“Why am I here?” She kneads the bedsheet.

The spoon pauses midway between the cardboard cup and his mouth. “What?”

“Why am I in the hospital?” She truly doesn’t know and tries to recall the past week. Checking into the hospital. Talking to a doctor. Eating the horrible food hospitals are known for. She can sense the memories are there. She reaches for them, stretching. She tries to grasp them, to hold on to something, anything about what landed her in a hospital bed with a splinted wrist and taped-up abdomen. She comes up empty-handed, confused and bewildered.

Damien stares at her like she’s asked the most ridiculous question, which she probably did. Ella feels like she should know. She licks her lips. They’re chapped. Her throat hurts when she swallows, and she aches everywhere—muscle, bone, and tissue. Everything about her situation feels wrong—her body, this place, Damien carrying on as if her being laid up in a hospital bed is their new normal.

Damien remains speechless, his lips slightly parted. The skin between his brows creases and his eyes dip down. He drops the plastic spoon in the oatmeal and sets the cup on the table. When he still doesn’t say anything, Ella pushes away the food cart and shoves down the sheets. A hospital gown bunches at the juncture of her thighs. She jerks up the hem, exposing her stomach, and gapes. Bigger than she’s ever seen it and spongy to the touch, her stomach looks like a partially filled air mattress. A large square gauze pad is taped to her pelvis.

She starts picking at the gauze. She needs to see what’s underneath.

“Ella, stop.” Damien grasps her wrists and she hisses. “Sorry.” He releases her braced wrist but keeps a firm grip on the other, holding her hand away from her.

She struggles. She needs to see what was done to her. “Let go.”

“Settle down. You’ll pull your staples.”

“Staples? What did they do to me?” she cries.

“Are you serious?” Damien asks, his face inches from hers.

“Tell me.”

“Don’t screw with me like this. It’s not fair.” He releases her wrist and backs away.

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