Sempre redemption, p.14
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.14

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
 
Page 14

 

  “Uh, yes,” she said, not sure if it were true or not. She brushed by him, mumbling thanks as she slid into the backseat. Her heart pounded rapidly and she fought back the sickness that built in her stomach as the guy slammed the door.

  “Where you headed?” the driver asked, glancing in the rearview mirror.

  “Chicago. ” The word rolled from her lips before she processed what she was saying.

  The driver laughed. “Can’t go that far, but I can drop you at the bus station. ”

  She nodded in a daze. “Okay. ”

  He pulled onto the road. The rain bombarded the car, wind gusting and thunder cracking, making Haven jump every so often. She zoned out and couldn’t focus, slipping further and further into a trance. She was too exhausted to stop and think, acting on impulse out of desperation.

  When the cab stopped, she handed some cash to the driver without counting it first. She got out, standing on the curb in the pouring rain as the vehicle pulled away. The brick building in front of her was shabby, the blue GREYHOUND sign barely visible through the storm. Buses idled in the side parking lot while a few people lingered inside the brightly lit lobby, waiting.

  Haven didn’t have the slightest clue where to start. Her body shook as she approached the thick glass window in the building, dripping water all over the grimy tile floor.

  The lady sitting in front of a computer eyed her peculiarly. “Can I help you?”

  “I, uh . . . I need to go to Chicago. ”

  Reaching into her pocket, Haven pulled out a wad of cash—twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, a ball of fives and ones, and a handful of loose change. She laid it all out on the counter, everything she had left in her pocket.

  The lady counted it out, carefully unfolding the damp bills. “There’s a bus that leaves here in about four hours for Chicago. ”

  “Do I have enough?”

  The lady smiled, punching it into her computer and printing out a ticket. “With ten cents to spare. ”

  Haven took the ticket, dropping the spare dime in an empty coffee cup that a homeless man held as he sat against the wall nearby. She quietly walked over to an empty metal bench, lying down on it as she waited. Four hours, she chanted in her head as she closed her tired eyes. Just four more hours.

  * * *

  Sleep viciously pulled her away, deep in the throes of another surreal dream. The lightning that crashed outside the bus station translated as gunfire, pulling her into the middle of the warehouse shootout again. On and on it went, a cycle of violence she couldn’t escape. She thrashed around on the hard bench, whimpering in her sleep, until someone shook her awake.

  She sat up abruptly and her eyes fell upon the familiar man beside her. She scanned him quietly for a moment, blinking a few times, thinking if she waited he would fade away with the dream. “Dr. DeMarco?”

  He sat back against the hard bench with an exasperated sigh. He, too, was drenched from the storm, his wet hair slicked back on his head. His eyes, dark and expressive, avoided her for a long moment.

  His proximity put her on edge, his presence alarming. Her heart pounded furiously as confusion set in. “How did you know . . . ?”

  “Maura and I tried to run away once,” he said quietly, shaking his head. “We made it as far as the bus station, too. ”

  Haven eyed him warily. “I’m not running away. ”

  He ignored her declaration. “What you’re doing is dangerous. So many things could’ve gone wrong . . . could still go wrong. You have the right to go where you want to go, but this just isn’t smart. ”

  Haven moved over a bit, settling on the bench a few inches from him. Her eyes scanned the building for a clock, finding one above the ticket window. Three and a half hours had passed. Her bus was scheduled to leave in thirty minutes.

  “Do you remember the day I took you to the hospital?” he asked. “We sat in my office. I told you Carmine was naïve and impulsive. ”

  “Irrational and volatile,” she whispered.

  “Carmine’s always done things without thinking, and I was worried he’d do the same with you. I honestly thought he’d take you and run, because he’s my son. Because he’s so much like me. But he didn’t. For probably the first time in his life, he considered the consequences.

  “I’ve lost a lot, you know. I lost my wife, but before that I lost my life. I gave it away by initiating. That’s the world Carmine belongs to now. They tell him where to go and what to do, and if he doesn’t . . . well, you know what happens when people disregard orders. He doesn’t want you subjected to that, and I agree with him. I believe Chicago’s the last place you should go, but if you decide you really want to, I’ll do whatever I can to help. ”

  Haven looked at him with surprise. “You’ll help me?”

  “Yes, but not today,” he said, his expression serious. “Carmine needs time to figure things out, and quite frankly, so do you. Don’t you agree?”

  She stared at him, unsure of how to answer. “I guess so. ”

  “After you’ve given life a chance, if you still want to go to Chicago, I’ll make sure you get there, even if it’s the last thing I do. But before you can choose to be with Carmine, you have to understand what you’re giving up. ”

  “But—”

  Dr. DeMarco raised his hand to silence her. “If you can’t do it for yourself, at least do it for Carmine. Show everyone he was right about you, that you’re the person he believes you are. Prove everyone wrong who threw you aside, and prove Carmine right, because he needs it. ”

  Tears welled in her eyes. “Okay. ”

  “Good,” he said, standing. “Now let’s get you back to Dia’s. She was terrified when she called me, thought you’d been kidnapped again. ”

  Shivering, Haven wrapped her arms around herself, guilt running rampant. She was chasing a ghost through the city, risking everything out of desperation, and scaring the few people who truly cared for her.

  She followed Dr. DeMarco outside and slipped into the passenger seat of his Mercedes, which was parked haphazardly along the curb. He started it, cranking the heat to get her warm. She laid her head against the foggy side window, frowning as she faintly heard the intercom announce boarding for the bus to Chicago.

  11

  Things change.

  Sometimes it’s abrupt, knocking you off your feet as life throws a curveball nobody expected, turning worlds upside down and leaving those left behind to pick up the pieces. But other times, it happens slowly, an hour, or a minute, or a second at a time, so immeasurable no one can pinpoint exactly when it happened. You find yourself somewhere you’ve never been, doing things you’ve never done, being a person you never imagined you would ever be.

  Because Dia was busy and everyone else she knew lived hundreds of miles away, Haven was often left on her own in the small Charlotte apartment. She ventured outside on the days she was alone, the fresh air and change of scenery helpful in clearing her mind. She would walk across the street to a small park and sit on one of the swings, the place deserted in the mornings because the weather was still cold. Haven welcomed the temperature, the icy air stinging her cheeks and reminding her she was still alive—that no matter how much it hurt, or how much she felt like she was dying inside, she wasn’t. She was still breathing, each exhale reaffirming that with a cloud of warm breath lingering in the air around her.

  As long as she was still breathing, she was okay.

  Dia helped guide Haven through the simple things, things Carmine had never gotten around to showing her, like how to mail letters and use a computer. Haven bought postcards at the store to send to Tess and Dominic across the country, and she set up an email account to keep in touch with them.

  The sensation of seeing something in the mailbox addressed to her was indescribable. Most people took it for granted, communicating freely, but it was a big deal to her. It was proof she had an identity, that she was real.

  The first time she received jun
k mail, a flyer from a local business about a sale, Haven was elated. She wasn’t sure how they got her name and Dia shrugged it off, telling Haven to trash it, but she refused. She had been acknowledged as existing, like she was just another person in the world. She wasn’t Haven Antonelli, former slave; she was Haven Antonelli, potential customer.

  To her, that was everything.

  Things went smoother after she decided to give life alone a chance, but she still had her moments. She missed Carmine immensely, her love never wavering. She often wrote him letters, too, but she never mailed them. Whether it was pride, or anger, or straight-up fear, something kept her from reaching out to him again.

  * * *

  Haven awoke one morning to sunlight pouring into the Charlotte apartment. Winter had faded away, January turning to February before March blossomed before her eyes. She climbed out of bed and opened the window, breathing in the fresh morning air as she looked out at the street below. The trees were full of lush green leaves, small flowers starting to bloom and freckle the landscape with color that hadn’t been there the day before.

  After getting ready for the day, Haven strolled out to the living room. It was quiet and still, Dia having already left. Where her books had been strewn out the night before lay a single pamphlet, a yellow sticky note attached to the front. Haven picked it up curiously before strolling into the small kitchen.

  Thought you might be interested in this. —Dia

  Pouring a glass of juice, Haven sipped some as she opened the brochure. Charlotte Academy of Arts Spring Schedule was written along the top, followed by a list of upcoming workshops. She scanned them, stopping at one halfway down.

  Painting 101

  This free workshop will help students loosen up and see the world in a different light. Participants will experience the joy of painting, learning to express themselves in a new creative way. No experience needed. All materials included.

  Mon–Fri, March 12–23, noon–3 P. M.

  March 12. Haven glanced at the calendar, realizing it was today.

  She read the pamphlet three times before setting her glass on the counter. She debated for a moment, wondering if she could really do it, before shrugging away her doubts and grabbing her things. She headed out of the apartment, finding the Mazda parked in the lot across the street.

  Hesitating, she ran her hand along the sleek hood before climbing into the driver’s seat and starting it up.

  She was nervous as she drove across town, chanting to herself the entire time: If not for you, do it for Carmine.

  * * *

  It took Haven a while to find the place and just as long to figure out where to park. By the time she stepped into the Charlotte Academy of Arts, it was already a quarter after twelve. Discouraged, she walked up to a lady sitting at a desk in the front lobby, clutching the pamphlet in her hand. “I know it’s probably too late, but I was wondering about the art class that started today. ”

  “Painting?” the lady asked.

  Haven nodded. “Yes, ma’am. ”

  “You’re in luck,” she said. “There’s one opening left. ”

  Haven filled out the paperwork, trying to keep her hand from shaking as she wrote her name. Once she registered, the lady showed her to the classroom. The lighting was dim, soft classical music playing from speakers in the ceiling. Art stations were set up in rows as a man stood in the front, sitting on top of a desk with his arms crossed over his chest as he scanned the class. His eyes settled on her and he smiled, walking over to the door.

 
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