Carnival Lights: Chapter Thirty-Eight

By noon on Monday, Christina was dressed and ready to go. Pacing up and down, she considered her options. The red and yellow sundress with thin shoulder straps, bit at her skin as she prowled restlessly. Her hair, curling gently down her back, swished nervously from side to side as anxiety clawed greedily at her insides. Her eyes, expertly enhanced by aid of makeup, were clouded with fear, tension…

“It’s now or never,” she murmured to herself nonsensically—giving rise to her already heightened nerves. Grabbing for her purse, she exited her house, trying to calm her breathing with each step she took down the front porch and across the street. It didn’t help much.

The entire ride over, she rehearsed what she would say. She had her speech nicely in hand, having spent the majority of her weekend getting it perfectly prepped. Slowing down as she pulled off on their side street, she felt the butterflies in her stomach explode.

“Just breathe,” she cautioned herself as she crawled past their driveway, her eyes roaming the driveway—looking for vehicles, signs of gathering. Sure enough, Jason’s vehicle was parked out front, and the garage door holding Mary and Matthew’s SUV’s was open, showing both cars snugly parked inside.

With a crank of her hand on the wheel, she turned her car back around, and this time, she didn’t drive past their house, instead pulling up into their yard. Cutting the engine, Christina bolted out of her seatbelt, her hand jerking the door handle with enough force to make the hinge crack. Marching up to the front door, she didn’t allow herself to reconsider.

“Knock,” she scolded her fingers when they initially froze down by her side. With a twitch, they curled into a fist as she brought it down against their solid wood door.

In some ways, the reality of what happened next fully lived up to the dreams she’d been living on. It some ways.

For one thing, it wasn’t Mary who answered the door. It was Matthew.

Blinking in surprise at the sight before him, his mouth formed words but at first no sound came out as he gazed down at Christina’s strained smile.

“Umm,” twisting her fingers together in front of herself, Christina felt her own eyes wandering, unable to meet that penetrating look. Suddenly, she didn’t know what to say. Clearing her throat, she prayed for confidence: “Sorry to barge in unannounced—”

“Matthew? Who’s at the door?” But before Christina or Matthew could answer her, Mary’s short form rounded the opening.

Stopping mid-stride, that lady’s mouth fell open. “Christina?” she whispered unbelieving.

Seeing her, Christina’s eyes watered. “Hi Mar.”

“Oh honey,” Mary breathed, rushing forward on instinct.

“I’m sorry.” This wasn’t how Christina had planned to start off the conversation. Swimming in a sea of uncorked emotion, she found the rattle of her breath, the wobble in her knees distracting. “I’m so sorry—”

That’s as far as Christina got before Mary’s arms were pulling her forward, throwing Christina into that woman’s embrace.

“I was so ghastly to you both—and I didn’t mean it,” Christina cried, her body sinking into Mary’s hold. “I’m not sure if you can ever forgive—”

“Hush,” Mary insisted, her words half-smothered. “There’s nothing to forgive. You have nothing to apologize for.”

“Yes. I do.”

“No.” Mary shook her head forcefully. “If anyone needs to be forgiven it’s me. I should never have said what I do.”

Pulling back a little, Christina saw the tears she’d heard in Mary’s voice. Her eyes flitted a little to the left, including Matthew. “But you were right. I was doing everything you feared I would. Recreating my past, confusing everything—and all because I was so afraid to lose you…”

Mary squeezed a little harder. “How many times do I have to tell you, you can’t possibly lose us?”

“I know,” Christina said. “At least, I know that now. I just—I couldn’t bear the thought of having you turn your back to me. So I turned mine to you. I thought, if it was my decision, it wouldn’t hurt as much.”

“I hope you were wrong,” Mary muttered, letting Christina go at last.

Christina smiled at the disgruntled note in Mary’s voice. “Dead wrong.”

“Good, because we’ve been absolutely miserable without you. Haven’t we, Matthew?”

Half afraid of what she’d find there, Christina forced her gaze up to his. But Matthew didn’t even need to speak—it was all written there, clearly on his face.

“And worried,” he added, but without any reprimand in his voice. “How was your trip?”
Christina felt her chin wobble. “It was…”

The sound of a third set of footsteps on the tiled foyer brought her up short. Her eyes—wide and searching lifted to find Jason coming into view. At the sight of her, his body seemed to almost jolt in recoil—but only for a second as he came to standing beside his father. His face was devoid of expression, his eyes shadowed under the overhead lighting.

“I went home,” she said, her eyes pleading silently with his from across the way.

But it wasn’t Jason who answered. “Yes,” Matthew replied gently. “That’s what Jackie said.”

At his voice, Christina snapped back to attention. Turning to him, she winced. “I know. And I’m sorry about that too…”

Matthew held up a hand. “It’s okay, Christina. Really. We understood.”

“How—how did it go?” Mary asked nervously.

Christina blew out a harried breath. “Better than I expected, but less than what I deserved.” With a half smile at Mary, Christina continued. “And I have you to thank for making me realize that. I have all of you to thank,” she said, her eyes zeroing in on Jason.

Still, there wasn’t so much as a flicker of response.

Digging deep from breath, Christina felt her lips quiver. “Despite that, we talked—me and my mother. I’m not sure if she’ll ever truly be able to forgive me but…she’s trying anyway. And that’s more than I hoped for.”

Mary brought a hand to her chest, but Christina wasn’t sure if it was in relief or fury.         “She’ll never be like…she’ll never be what you showed me family is supposed to be,” Christina said, shrugging uncomfortably underneath the sentimentality she didn’t often express. It was hard, being this open. “But then again, I’ll never be what she’s always thought a daughter should be.” She laughed without humor. “So, there’s that.”

Mary frowned, but at a small nudge from Matthew, she remained silent.

“It was funny—I didn’t even know how much you all had changed me, changed the way I looked at my past, until I went back there.”

Jason frowned, which was the first inclination he was even listening to her. Christina tried to take heart in that small gesture of reaction. It was something.

“Oh baby…”

“No,” Christina said, cutting Mary off. “Please, let me finish. I need to say this.”

Mary nodded.

“Going there, seeing her for the first time in years I realized a few things. Like how much I hurt for her and how little she’d hurt for me. I’d spent four years using her as the center for everything I did. But she just moved on with a new life, half-forgetting she’d ever had another.”

“I’m so sorry,” Mary whispered, tears running blindly down her cheeks.

Christina smiled. “Thank you. It wasn’t until I came face to face with that knowledge—when she saw me for the first time in years, standing on her front porch…” Christina swallowed with difficulty. Breaking down now wasn’t an option. “It wasn’t a reunion for her. It wasn’t the thing dreams were made of—because those only exist when you’ve actually dreamt for something to happen.”

Reaching forward, Matthew laid his hand on her shoulder.

“It wasn’t until I was standing there, looking at her, calling myself ten times a fool because I’d hoped—” Christina pursed her lips, taking comfort in the pressure of Matthew hand, the pain emanating off his face.  “I’d hoped a lot of nonsense. And it hit me, that all these time, despite everything I’d still been fighting for her—and she’d, she’d called it long ago.”

“And suddenly I was terrified to be like her,” Christina said.

“You could never be like that,” Mary insisted, wiping impatiently at her eyes. “Never.”

“I know,” Christina returned. “It was like this flip switched and everything made sense. I couldn’t help it, comparing everything I was seeing with her with everything I knew I would see at this moment, when I would do the same thing on your doorstep.”

Matthew’s hand reflexively clutched at her shoulder.

“You’ve always been on my side,” Christina continued. “Even when you probably didn’t agree with what I was saying or doing.”

“That’s love, baby.”

“I’m sorry it took so long for me to figure it out. It took going home for me to believe it. Don’t get me wrong,” Christina said doggedly. “My mother loves me, and I think she loves me as much as she can, but there are limits to her love, and they’re shallow and unrelenting. And really, I think that says it all. She doesn’t have the capability to love like…well, like you. And I can fight that all I want, but at the end of the day, that’s the fact.”

“I’m sorry,” Mary said again.

Christina waved it away. “Don’t be. I can’t pretend to be someone I’m not. I can’t be afraid to err. But mostly, I can’t rewrite history.”

“No.”

Christina took a deep breath. Jason still hadn’t spoken. Looking up at him again took great effort, because what she would say next mattered most of all. But she did look at him. His eyelids seemed to flinch at the contact, but Christina only straightened her shoulders.

“I also realized that…that Jason, you were right.” At the words, Matthew and Mary exchanged glances. “You told me I was hiding behind my mistakes, not because I couldn’t forgive myself but because I wouldn’t.”

He inclined his head.

“…You said I wouldn’t forgive myself because I liked it that way. If I couldn’t let go of my past then I couldn’t let someone in again, and if I couldn’t do that, well then I couldn’t be hurt again by someone who was supposed to love me, and protect me.” Christina’s voice cracked a little. “I think I knew you were right even when you said the words.”