Carnival Lights, Chapter 37

Carnival Lights: Chapter Thirty-Seven

Saturday and Sunday saw Christina reaching reflexively for her phone, her fingers flying across the keyboard as she’d type out copious versions of: “I’m so sorry. I was a jerk. I miss you—” only to have each and every missive quickly deleted.

Her eyes grew dizzy staring down at Mary’s contact name. She wanted to reach out. She wanted to say something. But mostly, she wanted to know if she’d been right—if she’d be welcome come Monday afternoon. Faith was a hard thing to believe it, it turned out.

But there was something else, something she almost didn’t want to admit to herself. Because as much as she knew she needed to be the one who reached out first—after all, hadn’t she been the one to leave them, to lash out and run away? Still. She couldn’t help a small flicker of hope that seek her out, wonder what she was doing.

She knew it shouldn’t have, but it hurt, each hour that passed without so much as a by your leave. It felt so similar to four years ago…

“No. Banish the thought,” she could be heard telling herself.

They didn’t know she was back home. That was all. Otherwise, they would have called.

The only information they’d been able to glean was what they’d learned from Jackie, and admittedly Christina hadn’t told her much either.

It was at that reminder that finally Christina’s hand twitched, scrolling down to another name on her contact list. She had to call someone, talk to someone… It was Sunday afternoon by this point, and after going half-crazy at the mere idea of crashing Mary and Matthew’s home, after hours spent drafting and redrafting text message that she was never quite brave enough to send, she knew she needed some sort of distraction. So she called the only person who would understand. And who might unwittingly give her some reassurance.

“So you’re back.”

Sitting cross-legged on her couch, Christina pushed the phone more comfortably against her ear.

“Yeah.”

“Thank God,” Jackie sighed.

“Miss me?” Christina joked darkly. She looked around her darkened livingroom, the slight glare of passing headlights from a car going past splashed across one wall of the room.

“More like terrified you weren’t coming back.”

Christina rolled her eyes. “Ever the dramatic one.”

“You should have seen your face last Sunday.”

Christina swallowed the immediate retort on her tongue. “Yeah, sorry about that.”

“Everything OK?”

“I hope so.”

“Prevaricating again?”

Christina laughed at the irritation present in her usually chill friend. “No. No, at least. I’ll tell you all about it. Just, not now.”

Jackie made a noncommittal sound.

“How was work?”
If the question was unusual—and it most certainly was—Jackie didn’t make comment of it, at least not directly. She sighed. “So you’re still fighting with Mr. Gordman then.”

Christina sputtered. “What? No…”

“Clearly you are,” came the dry response. “Otherwise, you’d already know how work went.”

Rubbing one hand against the side of her forehead, Christina wondered if she hadn’t made a mistake after all, calling Jackie.

“You should have seen him this week,” Jackie went on to say. “He wouldn’t even hear of hiring a temp to do your work.”

Christina’s brow furrowed. “What? Why?” He always used a temp.

“He said that if you weren’t there, he’d just do it all himself. He didn’t trust anyone to do your job.”

“Oh please…”

“I’m serious. He stayed late every night, filling in for you.”

Christina made a face. “He probably put everything in wrong.”

“Probably.” There was the slightest hesitation on the other end of the phone. “What happened, Christina?”

Blowing out her breath, Christina shrugged. “I fell in love with the wrong guy.”

“With Jason, you mean?”

“Yes. No, I mean…” Christina sorted out her thoughts. “A long time ago I fell for the wrong guy.”

“Yeah,” Jackie said, her voice soft, understanding. “I sort of figured—”

“And then I took it out on the wrong guy.”

“Jason.” This time it wasn’t a question.

“And Matthew. And Mary.”

“So you’re hiding.”

“Pretty much.”

The phone was silent for a minute. “You sound better this week.”

“I feel better,” Christina said, and she knew it was true. She felt steady, sure of herself. Except… “I—Jackie, I said some pretty terrible things to them. All of them. Right before I left.” Her lips twisted painfully. “I’m not sure actually that they even want to hear from me.”

“I’ve never pegged you as a coward.”

Christina sat up with a jerk. “I’m not! I’m just, I’m trying to figure out what to do, how to make it up to them.”

“Do you remember what you said to me, when Max and I first starting dating and I realized I’d made a big mistake by pushing him away?”
“Not exactly…”

“Well, I do. You told me that all those grand gestures in romantic comedies—how had you put it, with the man standing there holding a rose as fireworks exploded in the sky and limousines did synchronized turns in the parking lot?—you told me that was all bullshit. That I should just be real.”

“I should be a motivation speaker,” Christina joked.

“You were right. So I called him that night and I just talked to him. I told him what I was feeling.”

Christina squirmed a little in her seat. It was always so easy, doling out the advice.

“Take your own council,” Jackie instructed then, as Christina knew she would.

“Right.” Christina looked longingly over at the chest to the right of her couch. Just thinking about going to the Gordman’s tomorrow had her tongue itching for a drink of whiskey….

“Look, no one likes to be the one who has to apologize.”

“It’s not that.”

“Then what is it?”

Christina wasn’t sure how much to share. It wasn’t in her nature. “What if it’s not enough? My apology?”
Jackie digested this for a moment. When she spoke next, her voice was challenging. “Well, then what will you have really lost?”

Christina pulled a face. “I’m not following…”

“It seems to me, if you do nothing, you’ve lost them anyway.”

 

 

 

Monday morning came with the blink of restless sleep. Groaning, Christina turned to her alarm clock. It was far too early…not quite five o’clock in the morning, but after half an hour spent tossing and turning, she gave up hope and lay there instead looking up at her ceiling. The pure whiteness of it offered a brilliant backdrop for her daydreams, which all consisted of her forthcoming confrontation.

She’d walk up to the house and before she could even knock, the door would be flung open and Mary, standing there with an apron tied around her waist, would run forward, throwing her arms around Jackie—

Half-strangled, wet laughter would float out of her mouth. Then she’d feel the weight of Matthew’s hand against her back, his voice in her ear as he’d whisper: “Glad to have you here.”

It was only when Mary finally pried herself away that Christina would spy Jason standing there, a little ways back.

“I’m sorry,” she’d mouth to him over Mary’s shoulder…and then, in an instant, she’d be in his arms, her mouth crushed under his—Mary and Matthew quietly giving them their privacy….

“Yeah right,” Christina muttered, throwing her blankets off and rolling out of bed. Shuffling to the bathroom, she put a firm hold on these dreams as she turned on the shower.

 

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