Carnival Lights, Chapter 31

Carnival Lights: Chapter Thirty-One

Cranking the ignition over in her car, Christina could barely see through the blur of tears obstructing her vision as she pulled out of the Gordman’s driveway. Through her rearview mirror, she could see the front door opening, Mary spilling out on the walkway—

But Christina didn’t stop. What more was there to say, anyway? Turning out onto the street, she pressed her foot down too hard on the accelerator, her small car jumping a little with the force of her feelings.

At first, she wasn’t sure what she intended doing, where she intended going, but then she felt her fingers closing tightly over the steering wheel,  her nostrils flaring as the scent of approaching summer wafted through the open driver’s side window. It was probably best that she went home and collected herself, sorted everything out. But she wasn’t going to do that. No, instead, she was going to recreate her past.

“Well, who said Mary was wrong, anyway?” Christina muttered to herself, turning down one city-street and onto another. She’d only been there once before, and she hadn’t even allowed herself to go inside, instead insisting on waiting in the car while Mary had run inside to drop off some mail that had been delivered to their place by mistake. (How long ago had that been? Two years now.)

She’d only been there once, but she’d never forgotten the way. Parking somewhat crookedly on the street, she cut the engine of the car. For a moment, she just looked at it. Jason’s home. Two-story, white vinyl siding, attached garage, small yard. The lights were on in one of the downstairs windows. So he was home.

She wasn’t sure if she was glad of that or not.

With a jerk, she pulled down the visor to glance at her reflection in the small compact mirror attached on the back. With a frenzied sort of motion that stung the sensitive skin there, her fingers wiped for smudges of mascara underneath her eyes. Glancing at herself, Christina grimaced. Her cheeks were blotchy from tears, her eyes stained red. With a snap, she closed the visor, jerked out of her seatbelt, and felt her hand reach for the door handle—

It was perhaps the longest walk she’d ever made—longer even than that night when Bill had turned his back to her. Her feet stomped unsteadily across the empty street, her breath wrenching out her chest as she advanced upon the three short steps which would take her up on his small porch.

She had one foot on the bottom-most thread when the door opened ahead of her. Pausing at the unexpectedness of it—she’d sort of been counting on the element of surprise, Christina felt the impact of his gaze like a live thing. Tensing, for a moment she couldn’t move.

Half shadowed by the light spilling out from the room behind him, she could still see the look of mingled concern and confusion crossing his face as he watched her.

“Christina?” He asked. He was holding his cell phone in his right hand. “What’s going on?”

At the words, Christina moved. Like a shot, her feet tripped the rest of the way up the porch stairs. He knew. There was no preamble in his voice—no shock at her sudden, unannounced entrance.

His next words confirmed it. Half lifting the cell in his arm, he said: “I just got a call from my mom and she—”

But before he could finish his sentence, Christina had fetched up beside him. Shaking her head fiercely, she placed her hands on his shoulders. “Shhh,” she whispered unsteadily, pushing him gently back inside the house.

Blindly, he followed her lead until they were both standing inside the open hallway leading off from his kitchen. “Christina?”

She was still shaking her head. “I just want one last moment,” she whispered, and then her hands were reaching up around his neck. Pressing her body up tight to his, reveling in the flash of surprise she saw flicking in his gaze, Christina felt her fingers curl around the back of his head before she guided it closer to her own. “Just one last…please—” and then her lips were on his, her mouth twisting against his in a frenzy of emotion.

He didn’t resist. His hands cupped the sides of her hips, holding her steady as their tongues met under the heated exchange. Moaning at the instant pinch in her stomach, at that feeling she got whenever he got this close—like gravity had given away, Christian felt her legs brush up against his, her whole body tingling as his teeth pulled against her lower lip, his thumb brushing away the stray tears which had leaked out of her tightly closed eyes….

But then he was pulling away, his brows furrowing in consternation as he stared down at her. “What’s going on?” He asked, but this time there was no mistaking the authority in his voice, the demand for an answer.

Her lips trembled. Closing them tightly, she untangled herself from his arms. Shaking, she ran her fingers through her hair. “Jason…”

His voice threaded with a warning. “One last what?”

Her lips pursed to keep the sobs from filtering out of her mouth. Taking a deep breath, Christina moved another step back, her eyes glancing around Jason, but never looking quite at him. “This thing between us,” she muttered, her hand fluttering like a demented thing between them, “it’s not going to work. I can’t, I can’t do this.”

At the words, his eyes closed. A small crease worked its way between his brow line. But when he reopened them, Christina was taken aback by the angry radiating there.

“You know Christina,” he said, his voice low.  “This hot-and-cold thing that you do, it’s getting pretty fucking irritating.”

She sucked in a breath. “I’m not—”

“Yes. You are. You do it a lot. All the damn time, actually. Only I’m not interested in it anymore. I mean, what is it? The drama—do you thrive off it? I don’t get it.”

She could hardly blame him for that. She smiled sadly. “No. It’s not the drama.”

“Then what?”

She shrugged fatalistically. “Call it a defense mechanism.”

His eyes narrowed. “For what?”

She half-laughed. It had a raw, broken sound. “I suppose, to keep you from doing it to me first.”

He rolled his eyes. “You know what, I’m over that too.”

“Excuse me?” She sniffed

“This little game you seem to like playing, where you answer my questions with cryptic remarks but don’t actually tell me anything.” He took a slow, deep breath. “Talk to me.”

“You don’t want to know.”

“Goddammit, Christina!”

At the growl in his voice, she felt her eyes round. In all the years she’d known him, Christina wasn’t aware of ever hearing Jason raise his voice. Not to her. Not once.

“I’m not doing this with you anymore. Either talk or go.” With the palm of his hand, he gestured toward the door behind her. But despite the exasperation in his voice, she could see the hurt in his face, the uncertainty, and bewilderment.

So she made a choice. “Fine,” she conceded with a self-deprecating motion. If he thought he wanted to know, well, she’d show him how mistaken he would become. “If that’s the way you want it.”

 

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