Carnival Lights: Chapter Fifteen
It was only at the small catch of the door shutting behind Jason that Christina allowed the tears swarming her eyes to fall freely down her cheeks. The shudder started at her shoulders, but soon, her entire body was shaking with the force of her sobs. Sliding haphazardly down the wall, she bent her legs up tight to her chest.
“Oh shit,” she cried, her arms wrapping themselves around her body as she let her forehead fall forward on her knees. Trapped for months, or maybe years, her throat opened on a long, terrifying wail. And then another.
Hiccupping hoarsely, she felt her breath quiver erratically as she fought for enough air to breathe. Great gasps of pain—
“What’s wrong with me? What the hell is so wrong with me?”
And, when she received no answer to this, just another silent rejection, another taciturn response, Christina only cried all the harder. Curling up into a tight ball, at some point, she found herself lying on her side, the soft fuzz of the carpet tickling her neck, as she let the hurt wash over her….
She woke up the next morning in that same position.
It was the ringing of her phone which roused Christina from her slumber. Groggy and stiff from the hard, scratchy surface, Christina blinked herself slowly awake. Her eyes were dry and itchy and the worst kind of headache beat at her temples.
Just another reason that crying was the absolute worst.
“Oh for Christ’s sake, shut up,” she mumbled at the insistent chirping of her phone; crawling drunkenly toward her purse, which was still sitting in a heap by the front door, she ruffled frenetically through the canvas bag, snatching hold of her cell phone on the fourth, shrill, ring.
Automatically, her eyes lowered, checking for the caller ID.
Christina froze at sight of the name flashing across the screen, her finger hovering over the answer button uncertainly. Images of the previous evening flooded her consciousness, reminding her all over again. And so, for the first time in memory, she considered screening the call.
She couldn’t handle this. What if—
Oh God. If they knew?
Oh God. What if they knew!
But, if she didn’t answer, they’d just try again. And again. Which would only give them further cause for curiosity.
“Dammit.” With a jerk, she felt her thumb swipe right. Brining the phone up to her mouth, Christina cringed. “Hello?” Her voice came out in a panicked sort of squeak.
“Thank God! I’ve been trying to call you—”
Christina felt her throat tighten. “Oh. Uh. Sorry, I, ah, I overslept.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Mary said, sounding distracted. But, to Christina’s overly sensitive ears, not particularly upset. “Listen, now that I’ve got you, can I ask a favor?”
Christina frowned. Relief swarmed her stomach with so much force it almost stole her breath. She wasn’t calling about Jason?
Nodding dumbly, Christina tempered the quaver in her voice. “What? Sure—”
But Mary was already talking, her voice rising sharply. “Is there any chance you’ll have time to stop by the bank this morning?” Christina frowned.
“The bank?” Christina queried. “Why?”
“Well,” Mary sighed dramatically. “I was supposed to break down some change for the cash box, but I completely ran out of time. I’ll reimburse you for the money when you get here, of course.”
“Oh.” Christina squinted past the dried up clumps of mascara clinging to her eyelashes. Her wits felt slow, addled. She wasn’t sure what to say to that. Fact was, she didn’t have a damn clue what Mary was rambling on about. “Well, actually…”
“Do not tell me you’re canceling on me.” There was no mistaking the threat in Mary’s tone.
Christina felt her nose crinkle. “Canceling?”
“Listen, Shelley already text me yesterday with some lame excuse as to why she couldn’t come, and Sharon’s mother isn’t well so she had to back out, too—”
Christina fought hard to make some semblance of sense out of this.
“If you don’t show up, there won’t be anyone to run concessions,” Mary continued.
“For the baseball tournament!” Mary said, clearly exasperated. “Please tell me you didn’t forget.”
In a rush, Christina heard the soft strains of a half-remembered conversation float through her mind. Closing her eyes, she nodded. Dammit. It had been at Easter dinner—
“…Well, you say I don’t have any faith in your baking. Then prove me wrong.”
Christina nodded slowly, desperate not to get caught out unawares. Her fork played absently with the turkey on her plate. “Oh. Yeah. Sure, okay.”
Jason grinned at her knowingly.
“What?” She asked him, setting her fork down sharply. She hated that grin.
“You have no idea what you’ve just agreed to, do you?”
Christina sputtered. “I’m sure I don’t—”
“Don’t tell me we caught you daydreaming again, have we?” Mary asked.
And they had. Only she’d refused to admit it. She’d refused to admit she hadn’t been paying a lick of attention to Mary. And once again Jason had been right; she’d had only the haziest idea what’s she’d agreed to.
But it was coming back to her now. Mary had needed volunteers to help run the admissions booths for the Caldwell High School baseball team’s Midwest Tournament. Caldwell High School, where Jason worked not only as a political science teacher, but also as the head coach of the boy’s baseball team.
Shit, shit, shit!
Christina desperately tried to convince herself that her stomach twisted in dismay at the turn of events.
“No. No, I didn’t forget,” she said, speaking quickly. “But, ah, but I actually I don’t think I can go….”
Christina winced. “I’m sorry.”
“Christina, I need you there today.” Mary sounded frantic. Or maybe just disappointed. “I can’t do it all alone—” And now more than a little overwhelmed. Or just let down.
Her lips compressing in a tight line, Christina swallowed twice. She hated letting Mary down. Clearly the woman was desperate.
“It’s just,” Christina licked her lips nervously. Her fingers tightened against the edges of her thin black phone. “Jason and I sort of had words yesterday…” That was putting it mildly.
Mary made an amused sound. “Oh, is that all?” She laughed. “Shoot. You two are always having words.”
Christina blew out a hard, long breath. “Yeah, not like this.”
“Why? What happened?” Immediately, her tone shifted—a carrying that particular mixture of suspicion, anticipation, and concern that mothers seem to come by naturally.
Christina felt her stomach clench. There was absolutely, one-hundred-percent no way she could tell Mary. Her face flamed at just the thought. It had been a mistake, telling her even that much. Mary was a little bloodhound when she smelled a story—
“No-nothing. Not really. I mean….” Christina felt her lips twitching, her body tingling at the realization of what she had to do. She rolled her eyes up to the ceiling, offering up a hope or a prayer, she wasn’t sure. “What, ah, what time do I need to be at the ball field?”
Mary’s voice oozed with the glee of a woman who’d just gotten exactly what she wanted. Letting the back of her head fall against the wall behind her, Christina snorted.
“And don’t worry,” Marry assured her. “I’ll make sure Jason doesn’t bother you one bit.”
Christina’s finger picked absently against a scuff on the heel of one of her high-heeled shoes. “Yeah.” She sighed. “That’ll be the day.”