And so, dinner with Matthew and Mary turned out to be delightful. It wasn’t until the plates were all cleared away that the trouble began. Excusing herself from the table, on the plea of needing to use the restroom, Christina was told to rejoin Matthew and Mary in the den, where a second glass of scotch would be waiting for her.
Proceeding her into the room, Mary sat herself down carefully on the arm chair facing the large bay window overlooking the front sweep. Accepting a replenished glass of wine from her husband, she twirled the red contents slowly.
“I’m a bit worried,” she confessed to the room hesitantly.
Matthew, busy pouring his drink, stopped, tipping the bottle up as he glanced over at his wife. “About what?”
“About Christina.” She shook her head. “No, actually, that’s not true. I’m worried about Jason.”
Her husband frowned.
Mary spoke without his ever asking the question so clearly stamped across his face. “You don’t know about Christina’s past.” She considered her words carefully, her lips twisting a little. “But I do. And it’s, it’s dark and ugly.” She sucked in her bottom lip. “Painful.”
“Okay,” Matthew said slowly, picking up his drink to sit down opposite her.
Mary shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “It’s just…I don’t think she’s told him about it.”
“That’s her business,” Matthew said cautiously.
“Well,” Mary shook her head. “That’s just it, it’s something that I think he should know, something he deserves to know.”
“Because it…it affects him, however indirectly,” Mary said, thinking that Christina’s past would undoubtedly color her perception of romance. Speaking cryptically, because Mary was nothing if not a gossip, she continued: “It, well, it’s something that morphed her whole world. It shattered Christina, and I don’t think she’s even begun to heal from it. Certainly, she hasn’t been able to put it behind her.”
Matthew made a low sound. “And you think it’ll come between them?”
“I’m almost sure of it. We are a product of our past. Even if people do change, we take our baggage with us.” Mary made a sweeping gesture. “But what can I say? I can hardly tell Christina what to do—or how to be. I promised her that nothing would change between us; that I won’t think any differently of her, and I don’t. Really, I don’t. Only,” Mary sighed again, her words becoming as jumbled as her thoughts. “With everything going on between her and Jason….” She shrugged meaningfully, letting her sentence dangle in the air between them.
There was a beat of silence and then she added: “I don’t want him to get hurt. I don’t want either of them to get hurt.”
Matthew inclined his head. “It’s that bad?”
“People have a tendency to recreate their history. Especially when it’s left unresolved.”
“And you think she’ll do that.” It wasn’t a question.
“I think she already has, a little. It’s why she was so terrified to admit her feelings for him in the first place.”
“I see,” Matthew said.
“Knowing what I know, I’m concerned that…”
“That once a cheater, always a cheater?”
The hard, brittle question, coming from within the shadows of the doorway, had Mary spinning around, her glass dangling precariously in her hands. Echoing her movements, Matthew’s head turned sharply toward the sound, as well.
Now it must be said that Christina DeLuca was not a woman known for listening in on others conversations. Indeed, she hadn’t meant to overhear Mary’s remarks, at all. But when she’d emerged from the bathroom, her stocking feet slipping soundlessly on the tiled flooring, she’d been unable to do anything else, as that woman’s voice had a tendency to carry.
Stilling at the ominous hum of conversation, Christina had hardly realized what she intended doing until she felt the cool metal of the doorknob pressing against her back. Huddled into the dark entryway, she leaned forward…and that’s when she’d known for sure that they were talking about her.
It shattered Christina….
We are a product of our past.
I can hardly tell Christina what to do—or how to be.
People have a tendency to recreate their history. Especially when it’s left unresolved.
Mary couldn’t have put it any plainer. She was troubled about Jason. No. Correction: she was troubled about her son dating someone like Christina.
Standing there, shaking under the force of her feelings—the shock of realizing she’d been right all along, that she had lost the Gordman’s as surely as she’d lost her parents all those years ago once the truth had come out…. Thinking it over later, she figured that was what had spurred her on—because at that point she knew there was no going back. Things would never be the same. She’d lost the second only family she’d ever known.
Even if she ended things with Jason, her relationship with Mary and Matthew would be beyond repair. And really, what possibility did she and Jason have, if this was the kind of reception they could receive? She was double damned.
It was just like four years ago. Everything was gone, in a puff of smoke, in less than two minutes. Only this time, squaring her shoulders, her chin lifting up a notch, Christina found a strength she hadn’t possessed with her parents. This time, she wasn’t going to run off into the night without defending herself, this time she wasn’t going to leave quietly.
This time she would have her say.
Pushing herself forward, though her legs threatened to collapse under her insignificant weight, Christina heard her voice carry out in the dim room with a surprising coolness.
“That once a cheater, always a cheater?”
She barely heard Mary’s instinctive denial. Laughing roughly, she shook her head. “As you said, we are a product of our past….”
Mary’s lips trembled. She could see them quivering from clear across the room. “Christina, I’m not sure what you heard—”
“Only the things you just said yourself,” Christina assured her, nodding grimly.
“That’s not what I meant,” Mary insisted, and she did look truly upset. Setting her wine glass anyhow on the table beside her, she got to her feet. Her arms were held out in front of her, the epitomical gesture of surrender. “Christina, wait, let me explain—”
“I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” Christina insisted. “I do believe I got the gist of it.”
“Now that’s enough,” Matthew interrupted. “I won’t have you talk to my wife in that tone of voice.”
Christina felt her lips tremble.
“Don’t you dare yell at her, Matthew,” Mary said, turning on her husband. “She has every right to talk to me however she wishes! I deserve it anyway.” Turning back to Christina, her eyes widened pleadingly. “Christina, I’m sorry for what you think you heard just now—”
“You mean I misunderstood you when you said you feared I’d recreate my past?”
There was the slightest pause and then: “No,” Mary admitted. “You didn’t misunderstand me. But I think you misunderstood why I’m concerned. Christina, you’ve bottle this up inside of you for so long, and I’m afraid that if you don’t let it out if you don’t talk about it and let others in, you’ll never truly heal from what happened.”
“Talk about it?” Christina’s voice was incredulous. Her arms opened wide.
“To Jason,” Mary clarified. “If you keep pushing this hurt down inside of you, holding onto it like a secret, it’ll fester and taint everything around you…”
Christina nodded woodenly. “I see.”
“Sweetheart, you’re heartbreak is as real today as I can only assume it was all those years ago. So what you’ve been doing—shutting everything up inside of you, pretending it didn’t happen…it’s not working. If you can’t learn how to move past what happened…well, how can you and Jason truly make something of your feelings? It’ll always be there between you—only he won’t know it, he won’t be able to help you confront it. And you won’t ever be free from your mistakes. You’ll punish yourself with him.”
“Oh, so talking about it, that’s what’ll help?” Christina almost spat out the words. “That’s rich, Mary since you’re the only person I’ve ever spoken to about it, and here you are, throwing it between us.”
“No. Honey, no that’s not what I’m doing!”
“No? That’s what it sounds like to me. Now that you know what happened, you don’t want Jason involved with me.”
Mary gasped. “Christina! How could you think that!”
She shrugged fatalistically. “I can hardly say I blame you. After all, I more-or-less saw this coming.” Christina pursed her lips. “But for you to stand there all holier-than-thou and talk to me about honesty when you’ve been lying to me for weeks now?”
Unbidden tears clogged at her throat, half-drowning the last of her words.
“I haven’t!” Mary insisted. “Christina, that’s not true.”
“Maybe not,” Christina consented. “But with my checkered past, you don’t think I’m a good fit for Jason anymore, either.”
“You’re upset,” Mary said, her voice changing on the wings of a new tact. “I understand that. I shouldn’t have spoken when you weren’t in the room. That was unpardonable of me.”
“You want to know why I, what’s the wording you used, shut everything up inside of me?” Christina asked, her voice almost conversationally. She even smiled. “Because this is always going to be the last conversation I’ll have.”
“The goodbye scene.”
“Ah, the self-fulfilling prophecy then?” Matthew said quietly, but neither woman gave him much notice.
“We,” Mary insisted, her arm waving between herself and Christina. “We will never say goodbye. That’s the last thing I will ever accept from you. In fact, that’s my entire point. I want things to work out with you and Jason. I’m rooting for the two of you. I always have been. That’s why I said what I did just now. Because I’m afraid—”
“There’s that word again,” Christina muttered.
“If you can’t let go of what they did, if you can’t believe that Jason would react differently, if you can’t believe that I still love you… ”She took another step toward Christina. “That’s what breaks my heart. Not what happened. I told you, I don’t care about what happened. I only care about how you handle it now.”
“And with whom.”
Mary’s head hung in defeat. “Yes. And with whom.”
Christina wrinkled her nose. “So I guess you were wrong, after all.”
“Excuse me?” Mary asked, but she sounded exhausted suddenly.
“I did need your permission to date Jason. And by the looks of it, I don’t have it.” On that note, she turned for the door. It an ominous, damning sort of silence that greeted her words as she stalked to the door. It was only as she pulled it upon that she uttered: “Of course, you’re probably right. Haven’t I known that all along?”