With hands that shook so badly she almost dropped her keys twice, Christina finally managed to get the lock opened on her apartment door, and not a moment too soon. Her feet had only just passed over the threshold, her arm swinging wildly as she shut the door behind her, when she broke.
Sobs from four years ago, tears she’d though long since shed and forgotten, bubbled up her throat, frothing out of her lips in terrible, half-strangled, animal sounds.
And just as unstoppable.
Collapsing against one side of the hall marking her small entryway, Christina pushed a fist into her mouth, trying to curb the shocking sounds erupting from there, but to no real avail. Her blonde hair, mushrooming out of her face where it was smashed up against the door, vibrated with the force of her crying.
The vaguely dirty edge of her thin flip-flop pressing down on the accelerator.
Her last view of Bill, shrugging with irritation as he turned back for his front door, dismissing her just that easily from his thoughts.
The image of her mother, standing stoically and unmoved as her daughter packed up her small car….
Trying to catch her breath now, her body slumping toward the hard tile of her floor, Christina felt her diaphragm marching to the beat of her rapid breaths. She’d gotten into her car that night, totally alone in the world. Totally lost. Scared. Forgotten.
Something oddly reminiscent of a laugh (if somewhat hysterical in nature) eddied its way past Christina’s lips at the thought. In the space of fifteen minutes on that long ago night, she’d lost her home, her family, the supposed love of her life,
“Hell,” she said to herself, her voice a croak of sound. “If that’s love, who needs it!” And there was that laughter again, only this time it was threading itself around her very words, shaking through the lines of her teeth.
It was with a since of relief that she felt the gurgle of amusement growing, driving out the last of her tears. Her fingers wiping her eyes eagerly dry, Christina forced her feet back underneath her body. Then, pushing one hand against the wall, she brought herself erect once more.
Chuckling now as she’d been crying moments before, Christina kicked off her shoes. Her purse, she left on the floor by the door. She wouldn’t need anything in there. A little more in control, she carried herself forward, the tips of her finger trailing against the edge of wall as she walked into the living area.
She’d done exactly as Bill had requested that night. She’d left his property and she’d never returned. Not even when he’d called her a couple weeks later, all apologies and promises that this time he meant it, things were over between him and his wife—couldn’t she please understand, he hadn’t meant what he’d said that night on his lawn and yada, yada, yada.
She’d hung up on the phone on him mid-excuse.
Christina could live with herself—barely—for what she’d allowed to happen with Bill. She could even almost forgive herself for having the affair with Bill, in the first place. But she’d be damned if she’d allowed him to ruin her life twice.
With a little less than two hundred dollars in her banking account—after all, she’d been only twenty-four years old at the time, freshly out of college, and more-or-less living off her parent’s, Christina had walked away from Bill, she’d walked away from her mother and her father, and she’d left town.
She’d left Bakers Bay, Illinois.
Hell, she’d left Illinois.
And she’d never once returned.
“Not that anyone cared,” Christina reminded herself with a defensive scoff. Without conscious thought, her footsteps brought her to the smallish steamer trunk she’d found at an antique stores a couple years ago, the right corner of which was slightly marred from what the owner figured had probably been a fire at some point in time. It had the old look of history, with its intricate buckles and straps, but Christina had never been fooled.
It was nothing more than a replica. Even the scorched fire marks she’d always considered looked little staged…
“Whatever,” she muttered to herself as her fingers deftly worked the old style lock. With a creaking sound, she popped the lid open. The damp smell of must and old hay, which clung the lining of the chest, invaded her nostrils as Christina slipped her hand inside; seconds later, she produced a bottle of whiskey.
She’d waited almost two months before she’d shut off her phone and changed her number. And honestly, she’d only done that because Bill wouldn’t stop calling her.
“And because they’d never even tried,” she admitted, unscrewing the cap on the bottle of whiskey. She didn’t bother to hunt for a glass, tipping the glass rim up against her lips. She took a long pull.
And she’d waited for them to call.
Sitting in that ungodly motel, her legs crossed anxiously over the edge of the bed, her eyes burning down at the terracotta-colored carpet, she’d waited, prayed for a phone call that never came.
She’d stayed in that low-rent scumbox for three days waiting for something.
The smallest act of love.
But her phone had remained silent.
So on the fourth day, she’d paid the motel manager, thrown her meager belongings in the passenger seat of her Honda, and she’d driven north along the interstate.
Natalie DeLuca had never once tried to contact her daughter. Not in four years. For all that Christina knew, Natalie had been too busy all this time convincing anyone willing to listen that she’d never had daughter—Christina who?
She’d never heard from her father, either. Though, to be fair, that hadn’t really surprised Christina. After all, her mother had always called the shots in their family, and the first person she would have converted to the theory that Christina was nothing more than a figment of everyone’s imagination, would have been Edward DeLuca.
And for his Natalie, he’d have believed it.
But for all, she’d silently begged and pleaded, waiting for her parents to reach to her, to tell her they still loved her. To assure her she wasn’t a terrible, horrible person. And she’d needed to hear those things. Especially then, when she hadn’t believed the truth to those words herself.
But after those two months, when her phone had only rang with the desperate dialing of Bill, who’d refused to believe she’d be able to hold out on his charms—ha! Christina had given up.
She chucked her phone.
After throwing it as hard as she possibly could against her bedroom wall, and watching the casing and battery fall out of the back, hearing the oddly satisfying sound of the screen cracking as it smacked up against the hard surface, she’d felt something broken inside start to heal.
In that shithole apartment she’d been forced to stay in because it was the only place she could afford, she’d stared past the cracked plaster of the walls, the grey florescent lights shining blindly down on the mess laying at her feet, and she’d felt somehow vindicated. And just like that, she’d walked across the cracked linoleum of the floor and into the kitchen where she’d grabbed the broom and dustpan and, with little more than an indifferent sweep of her hand, she’d caught up the remnants of her cell phone.
And the last tangible hold she’d had on her old life.
The next day she’d gone to get a new phone.
And the day after that, she’d taken her car on its last trip down the freeway until she’d entered the city lights of Minneapolis/St. Paul. A friend from college, Toni, had moved there on the promise of a copywriting job at a small publishing house. When she’d heard that Christina had left home (though Christina had never told her the exact circumstances leading up to that abrupt exit) she’d been quick and genuine in her offer to let out her spare bedroom.
And that had been that.
Within six months, Christina had landed a job with Mr. Gordman. Two months after that, she’d moved out into her own studio apartment. And a little over a year later, she’d moved here.
And not one other fucking thing had changed.