Carnival Lights: Chapter Nineteen

Shivering a little at that last memory, Christina took a deep, halting breath. “And that was that. They told me to get out.”

“Your parents?” Mary whispered incredulously. They were the first words she’d spoken since Christina had started telling her tale.

At the horror in Mary’s voice, Christina found the courage to lift her eyes to the older woman again. What she saw in those dark brown depths was staggering. “I shamed them, Mary,” Christina tried to explain.

But Mary couldn’t (or wouldn’t) believe that. Her face echoed her horror. “Oh, sweetheart, no! Of course no—”

“Yes, I did,” Christina insisted, her voice coming out harshly now. “My mother told me, I still remember the words exactly. She said I was no child of hers.”

“Oh, Christina,” Instinctively, Mary reached for Christina’s hand. “I’m so sorry…”

At the contact, Christina recoiled. Her eyes were wild then, shining with unshed tears. She swallowed back a sob. “Don’t be. After all, I have only myself to blame.” She even managed a mangled sort of laugh. “I did this, after all. I ruined everything—”

“And you’ve been punished enough,” Mary finished, her own voice firm now.

Christina pursed her lips. “Do you know what she told me? She said I was the kind of girl that women are afraid of,” she admitted, brushing at her tears with the back of her wrist. “And she was right. Do you know what that’s like, Mary?” Christina’s voice was brittle, her face twisted into a look of self-disgust. “To be the kind of person others are warned about? To be someone you hate?”

Mary’s lips trembled. “Stop. Please stop,” she pleaded, raising a hand between them.

At the look on her face, Christina seemed to snap. The words she meant to say died on her lips. Wincing, she dropped her eyes. And then she was moving, her motions frantic, frenzied as she reached blindly across the countertop, her hands grabbing for anything they came into contact with

“I’m sorry,” she muttered, her eyes blurring everything in sight. Her hands furiously shoveled the miscellany into an empty box.  “I shouldn’t have burdened you with this.” Her hands were stretching to grab the next object…. “I tried to tell you—”

It was only as her fingers gripped the roll of ticket tape that Mary reached for her arm, pulling her up short. “Christina. Stop. Yes, you made a mistake. But so did they.”

“No.” Christina shook her head so hard her teeth clenched.

“Yes,” Mary insisted again, and this time her hand actually shook Christina. “Mother’s don’t turn their backs on their babies. Not ever.”

At the words, a weird, terrible sound erupted from Christina’s voice.

“People make mistakes,” Mary continued. “And, if they’re good, they learn from them.” Her eyes were steady on Christina’s averted face. “And while they’re picking themselves up from their fall, they still deserve to be loved. That’s grace.”

Christina’s shoulders shook with the force of her feelings. Closing her eyes, her lashes stemming back the tears threatening to spill down her cheeks—because really, there had been enough crying by now—she tried to breathe. It came in jerky gasps.

“Some things are unforgivable.”

“Perhaps,” Mary consented. “But not between a mother and her child. And certainly not that.”

“You don’t understand,” Christina persisted. “My mother—she grew up poor, with barely enough food to eat. She was so ashamed of her family, of her history. And she swore—”

“I don’t care what she swore,” Mary all but spat. “You may have let her down, but she let you down too.”

It was too much suddenly. It was all too much. With a wrenching sound from deep in her throat, Christina jerked out of Mary’s reach. Half stumbling in her haste, Christina turned and, deaf to the sound of her name on Mary’s lips, flew for the door. Her fingers scratched at the handle but finally, she felt her feet clambering out of the stand, felt the bite of the wind against her cheeks as she staggered into the parking lot.

Gaining the outside of her car, Christina half-collapsed against the driver’s side door. Her finger splaying against the glass, she sucked in a forceful breath of air. And then another, until she slowly felt her sobs subsiding. Swallowing her tears back under control, it was only as she unlocked her car door that Christina became aware of a set of eyes on her down-bent expression.

Hesitantly, with infinite care, she lifted her gaze out across ball field separating her from Jason. He was standing there, on the first base line, his ball cap slung low over his forehead. But she could still see his eyes and watch his gaze settle over her. At his look, Christian felt what little strength she had left drain itself from her body.

His eyes narrowed as they settled on her face, and even from that distance she could feel the question etching itself across his features, catch the slight marring on his brow line as concern flashing there briefly. She supposed she looked a fright—her hair tucked anyhow underneath her hat, and her eyes wide and her skin blotchy.

And in an instant, she didn’t want to fight anymore. She didn’t want to turn her back on him, to pretend she didn’t feel the effects of his eyes on her body. Her legs actually ached to stretch out across the distance between them. She wanted his hands, his arms, his lips…everywhere! She wanted him everywhere.

Something flickered in Jason’s eyes when she held his searching look. Christina held herself still when he made a seemingly unconscious move toward her—but in the next second, the unmistakable sound of a baseball bat connecting with a ball exploded in the evening air, followed almost immediately by the mad cheering of Jason’s team.

And then he’d turned back around, his arms up in the air, hooting just as loudly as the kids in the dugout as one of the boys rounded the home plate.

Christina shook her head as she felt her fingers pull the door open. “Well, what else did you expect? It’s kind of your thing, isn’t it?” she asked herself as she hauled her body up onto the seat. It was only then that she realized she was still holding that roll of ticket tape. With a defeated sigh, she tossed in wearily onto the passenger seat beside her.

She didn’t have it in her to bring it back to Mary. Not after all that. Not tonight.

With tired eyes she let her gaze roam over the baseball field one last time as she turned the key in the ignition. From the looks of the kids scattering across the field, Jason’s team had won. She couldn’t help the sad sort of smile spreading across her face as she watched them all try and tackle him to the ground.

Her fingers brushed over her lips absently.

“The wrong time, wrong place,” she muttered to herself as she slowly put the car into reverse. “And always the wrong guy.”

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