Carnival Lights: Chapter Eighteen

Christina’s hands tightened reflexively on the roll of ticket tape in her hands. She shook her head vehemently. “And lose you anyway?” She laughed hollowly, but she kept her eyes carefully averted. Because she would lose her. If Mary knew—good, strong Catholic woman that she was—she’d never look at Christina the same way again.

Mary sighed. “Oh, honey. No. Never—”

“You may want to wait before making rash statements.” Christina smiled. It chilled the room.

“You won’t scare me off, Christina.”

“No?” Christina asked then half under her breath. In an instant, she raised her gaze, almost challengingly, in Mary’s direction. “I had an affair with a married man.” Her words fell with a hard, flat effect.

Christina wasn’t quite sure why’d she’d spoken at last, she wasn’t entirely sure she’d even been saying it until she’d heard herself speak. Perhaps it was the aftermath of everything that had gone down yesterday, the regret and shame, the fear that if she didn’t talk the memories wouldn’t go away, or maybe she was just tired of it all. Tired of fighting her demons.

And maybe she almost wanted Mary to hate her. Because she was hurting and she wanted to hurt. After all, she deserved it.

Not unsurprisingly, upon hearing those words, Mary started, her mouth dropping open in shock. But to her credit, she made no sound, no move to retreat. She just stood there, waiting….

Christina raised her eyebrows. “And before you ask, yes, I knew he was married. I knew it and I did it anyway.”

Mary looked nonplussed. Swallowing, she was clearly trying to find the right words to ask the untold questions brimming in her wide, searching gaze. But Christina didn’t give her the chance.

Perhaps because it was already out there—her sordid little secret—or perhaps because it was the first time she’d told anyway about it, and it felt oddly relieving to say the words out loud, Christina kept talking. Turning away from Mary now, because her bravado from earlier had worn itself extinguished, Christina turned toward the service wall.

“He was my father’s partner at their law firm,” she confessed, her feature flinching over the words. That had been the worst part of it all. Her mother could have probably seen past her daughter’s transgression if it hadn’t been for that.

Pushing the creamer packets vaguely across the counter, Christina heard her voice come from far away. “It had started out as a mild flirtation…”

As most things of this nature probably started out, she’d always supposed. She’d known Bill in an offhand sort of way for years before he and her father had decided to start up their own law office. But she’d been only a child then, hardly interested in a colleague of her father’s.

“They started the company when I was nineteen,” she heard herself, one finger picking at the side of the pink sugar packet in her hands. She shrugged. “And, since it was my first year of college, my father thought it’d do me good to intern at their office during the summer.”

And that’s when it had started in earnest. She’d bring him coffee and he’d smile just a little too slowly as she’d cross over to his desk, making sure their fingers grazed as he’d take the cup from her grip. She’d find excuses to seek him out—dropping off a piece of paper she’d magically forgotten to give him earlier with his mail or asking him questions she could have found out from any of a number of paralegals working there.

His eyes would skim over her outfit as he’d walk past her cubicle each morning—a lightning glance that he couldn’t seem to help as he offered her a ‘Morning, Ms. DeLuca,” but it spoke volumes. For her part, she’d make sure to wear shirts that were demure but showed off the cleavage of her breasts, or skirts that were tight and hugged the rounded curve of her backside.

And then, one day, it all came to a head. She’d been helping him sort through some documents for an upcoming court appearance. It was nearing five o’clock but he’d already asked if she’d mind staying a little later that night.

Her breath had almost choked her at the thought. A few hours alone with him. It wasn’t a big case, so there was no reason for anyone else to stay and since she’d already volunteered to help him sort everything.

Of course, she’d said yes. Huddled up in his office, with lamps lit to beat back the night throwing shade into the large windows facing out behind his desk, they’d sat there, pouring over the books. It had all been relatively innocent until her pen had run out of ink. Getting up to go grab another from her desk, she’d started to shimmy past where Bill was sitting, blocking her exit. At the same moment, he’d gained his feet, intending to get out of her way so she could pass.

Standing almost nose to nose, in between the coffee table behind her and loveseat behind him, there was hardly a breath of air between them. A sort of static had gone off in her head at the proximity. She could feel his breath on her forehead.

His right hand had come up instinctively to grab hold of her elbow and keep her from tumbling backward. For a moment, no one moved. Then, slowly, she lifted her eyes to his. There was something dangerous in the glint of his gaze as he stared down at her, his nostrils flaring with the force of his breathing. His hand tightened its hold on her elbow. She didn’t try to back away, and he did absolutely nothing to aid her progress.

They stood like that for too long. They both knew it. Her lips opened just the slightest bit under his direct gaze. His thumb against the soft lining of her suit jacket became unconsciously caressing.

“Christina?” He’d finally whispered, his voice dark and seductive in the dim lighting. “We shouldn’t do this,” he told her.

She nodded, mutely.

“We both know this is a bad idea,” he said again, but his fingers were pulling her closer not farther away. At the slight pressure, her hands went up to either side of his chest, pressing against him.

He was right. She did know it was a bad idea. It also felt wildly romantic. For months, she’d watched him—taunted by the forbidden fruit of her father’s partner, a married man, someone years too old for her…

And there he was, staring down at her as though he’d die to have her lips, and she made a tiny whimper of sound in her throat— and that was all it took. In the next second, his head swooped down, his lips colliding urgently, almost violently with hers.

What had once been a memory she’d sworn to cherish, now left her almost nauseous in remembering.

“The affair lasted for almost three months,” she said, her voice hard in the retelling, cold and distant. Her fingers picked at the curled edges of the countertop. The metal cut into the pads of her fingers. She almost welcomed the pain.

“I don’t know when it was he started telling me he’d leave his wife, but after awhile he swore it,” she admitted into the quiet room. She lifted up one shoulder. “But I think I knew, even then, that it was all talk. I think I knew he was lying.”

 

By now, Mary’s hands were cupped firmly against her mouth. Christina had spared her the details of their affair, but still, the news alone was enough to draw lines of concern and distress across the older woman’s face.

“Who knows how long it would have continued, too,” Christina said, her voice so filled with self-loathing it was almost hard to make understood. “But my mother caught us.”

Bill had been over at the DeLuca’s house going over some tax information with her father. Christina had been home from school, her eyes watching him covetous from across the room, her skin tingling. It had been intoxicating, the quiet anticipation of being with him right under her parent’s noses, without their having any clue.

It was the thrill of the forbidden.

So she’d bidden her time, her eyes tracing his features lovingly as she’d waited for him and her father to take a break. And when, at last, that moment came, she’d made a big production of stretching her arms up over her head and declaring that she was going up to bed.

As she’d exited the room, she’d mouthed something to Bill when her parents weren’t looking. Ten minutes later, he’d met her in the upstairs bathroom. That was where her mother had found them only minutes later—entwined in a deep embrace, his mouth ravishing hers where they stood backed up against the bathroom vanity.

Natalie DeLuca hadn’t even seemed to be embarrassed when she’d calmly announced her presence and watched Bill jump back, his hands frantically righting his hair and re-tucking his shirt back into place, his mouth mumbling incoherently.

“Bill, I think it’s time you went home now. To your wife,” she’d enunciated quite clearly. She’d sounded almost pleasant when she’d said it, her hand even reaching out to pat his shoulder as he’d shuffled out of the bathroom.

No, it wasn’t until he’d walked out that Natalie’s face had morphed itself into something harder, something darker as she looked into her daughter’s face.

“What the hell did you do?!”

 

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