Sempre redemption, p.49
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.49

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 49


  They were seated along the side of the dining room at a table with two wooden chairs. Gavin ordered vegetable curry with spicy noodles without looking at the menu, while Haven picked a cheeseburger with fries. They were both quiet as they waited, sipping their drinks and resting their feet from walking so much.

  It took ten minutes, maybe fifteen, before their food arrived. Within a matter of seconds, Gavin cleared his throat. “Can I ask you something?”

  “Sure,” she said, popping a fry into her mouth.

  “What’s your deal?”

  She stopped chewing. “What?”

  “It’s just that, you know, you’re not like the usual people I deal with. There’s something different about you. ”

  And just like that, Haven’s guard crept right back up, the wall of disconnect rebuilding. Different wasn’t blending in. Different wasn’t staying out of the limelight. Different wasn’t a part of the plan. “How am I different?”

  He shrugged. “You live in New York but you haven’t seen much. You’ve gone nowhere and done nothing. ”

  Haven had no idea how to respond. She swallowed harshly, her appetite gone. “I was born in a really small town and never got to go anywhere. There wasn’t really anywhere to go, anyway, even if I could. I only had my mama growing up, and she couldn’t take me places. My father . . . I never really had one of those, and then I lost my mama, and well . . . here I am, I guess. ”

  She stumbled over her words, cringing at her explanation. While true, technically, it was a lie by omission. A half-truth. It was all, she realized, she could ever give him.

  “You have other family, right? Aunts? Uncles? Cousins?”

  The question spurred an image in Haven’s mind of her last Christmas in Durante. Dominic. Tess. Dia. Celia and Corrado. Dr. DeMarco. Carmine. While technically not her relatives, they were the only other family she had ever known. “Yes, but I don’t talk to them much. ”

  “Why not?”

  “I don’t know. ” That time, it was one hundred percent truth. “They all live far away. ”

  “So why are you here then?”

  Haven started to reply, looking up from her plate, but her words trailed off when her gaze drifted past Gavin. Her eyes were drawn to the back of the restaurant, out of the glass wall and onto the patio, where a row of potted palm trees aligned the railing. “Palm trees. ”

  “Palm trees?” he asked, Haven’s attention returned to him when he spoke. “That’s why you came here?”

  “No, well, uh . . . ” She let out a sudden laugh, tears prickling her eyes. “I didn’t think there were any in New York. ”

  He glanced over his shoulder. “Ah, yeah, they imported them. You know, for ambiance. A bit tacky, but whatever. ”

  Gavin pried no more after that, but the damage had been done. Haven was distracted, her thoughts lodged in the distant past as her eyes continually drifted back to the patio, her food remaining untouched. She missed them all, more than she had wanted to admit, but she missed him most of all.

  She tried not to dwell on Carmine, but sometimes it was unavoidable. Sometimes something small rubbed against the wound, reopening it, reminding her of what she tried to forget—not him, never him, but the ending. The devastation. The good-bye.

  Or lack of one, really. The lack of closure. Without it, the wound could never properly heal. It would linger forever, fueled by the ideology of what could have been.

  What could have been? It could have been Carmine there with her, exploring Central Park, traveling around New York. It could have been Carmine sitting across from her, not asking questions because he already knew the truth. He knew her past. He knew where she came from. He understood what she had gone through.

  But it wasn’t him, and as she sat there, she allowed herself to feel that void again.

  Gavin paid when they finished. They left the restaurant, neither speaking on the walk to her apartment. He reached over and took her hand halfway there, his fingers loosely linking with hers. She didn’t pull away, didn’t fight it. Her emotions were all over the place, up and down, a roller coaster of twisted thoughts and confusion.

  “Thanks for today,” Gavin said, pausing in front of the brownstone.

  “No, thank you. It was nice. ”

  “Nice. ” He repeated the word, eyeing her peculiarly. “Nothing more?”

  “Don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful time, and I do like you. ”


  “But I just . . . ”

  “Nothing more,” he repeated.

  “Right. ” She sighed. “It’s nothing you did. It’s just me, I guess. ”

  He let out a sudden, abrupt laugh that startled her. “Are you giving me the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ line?”

  “No. Well, yes. It’s true, though. You’re really nice, and you have a great personality, but—”

  “That’s what they say about ugly people,” he deadpanned.

  She rolled her eyes. “No, it isn’t. It’s true. And you’re not ugly. You’re handsome. ” She felt the blush rise to her cheeks at the admission. “Very handsome. ”

  “So what is it?”

  She glanced down at their still connected hands. “There’s no spark. No electricity. No lightning. ”

  Something flickered in his eyes then, his face softening as he let go of her hand. “Ah. ”

  “I’m really sorry,” she said.

  “Don’t be,” he said. “No harm done. ”

  “Are you sure?”

  He smiled genuinely. “Absolutely. ”

  “I did have fun, though,” she said. “I’m glad I went. ”

  “Me, too,” he said, taking a step back as he shoved his hands in his pocket. “I should be going. Have a good one. ”

  He walked away without another word, jogging across the street and disappearing into the darkness.

  * * *

  Monday came. Haven stepped out of her art building at precisely one o’clock and looked up to see Gavin leaning against the wall. They shared warm smiles and he strolled beside her to the library like usual, conversation flowing easy.

  Wednesday he was there again, as he was on Friday. But the following week, when she walked out of her painting class, the sidewalk was vacant. For the first time in weeks . . . months . . . Gavin wasn’t there.

  She waited for a few minutes, lingering along the side of the building, before making the journey alone.

  Days passed, then weeks, with no sign of Gavin. What started as confusion quickly grew into frustration before finally morphing into concern. Had something happened to him? Was he okay?

  One Friday afternoon, instead of heading to the library, she made the trek to the construction site. She stopped near the corner when she reached it, remaining on the old cracked sidewalk, her eyes scanning the property. They had made little progress from what she could tell, a few more levels of metal beams erected, but it was still no more than a fractured shell. Workers swarmed the grounds, a sea of yellow hard hats in the distance, bobbing and moving like rubber ducks in the water.

  Her attention shifted to the trailer as the door flew open and Gavin appeared in the doorway. A group of guys greeted him when he stepped outside. He joined them, sipping on a bottle of water as he sat on the trailer steps, laughing.

  Relief washed through her instantly before a tinge of hurt bubbled up. He appeared to be more than okay. Happy, even.

  Haven stood there for a minute before turning away. She knew it then, could feel it in her gut, the concern and frustration fading right back to utter confusion. Their friendship was no more, tossed away haphazardly like it no longer meant anything . . . if it ever even did.



  It was something Haven relied on since she was a child, living on the isolated ranch in the long-forgotten town of Blackburn. It had kept her out of trouble, warning her when something was not quite right. It was a sensation along her skin, a twisting in
her gut that set her on edge. Whether it was coyotes prowling in the night or monsters lurking in the shadows, she had always sensed when something—or someone—was there who shouldn’t be.

  She could remember only a handful of times when her intuition failed her. The afternoon in Dr. DeMarco’s bedroom had been once, when he had cornered her after she touched his gun. The warning signs had gone up too late. He had caught her red-handed, vulnerable and alone.

  It had happened another time, too, years earlier when she had been a small girl. Trudging along after her mama in the greenhouse along the side of the property, boredom nagged at her as Miranda was busy at work. She was at that age where she still didn’t understand the reality of her existence, the dreamer inside of her still alive, naïve and innocent.

  “Can I go see Chloe?” she had asked, tugging on the back of her mama’s shirt to get her attention. The cool air from an air conditioner blew on them from behind, stirring her filthy white summer dress.

  “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” her mama said, not taking her eyes off the rows of plants. “You should stay with me. ”

  “I don’t like it in here,” she said, scrunching up her nose. “It smells funny. ”

  “It doesn’t smell funny. ”

  “Yes, it does. It’s cold, too. See!” She held out her arm to show her the chill bumps covering her tanned skin, even though her mama wasn’t looking. “And it’s too bright. My eyes hurt. ”

  “You’re just full of complaints today. ”

  “But it’s all true!” Haven said. “Can I go? I promise I’ll be good!”

  “I know you’ll be good. I just . . . I don’t know. ”

  “Please? Chloe’s my best friend!”

  She frowned. “Fine. ”

  Haven ran from the greenhouse, hearing her mama call after her to be careful, but she was too excited to respond. She hadn’t seen Chloe in more than five sunsets and missed her, but her mama said it was too dangerous for them to visit a lot.

  Haven looked around when she got outside, making sure no one was there, before running across the yard as fast as her legs would go. She slowed when she got to the building on the other side of the house, right beside the stables that she and her mama stayed in. The building was gray, like a big metal house, and she quietly tiptoed to the back, where a bunch of cages were lined up against it.

  “Chloe!” she called, seeing her right away in the first cage. She jumped up as soon as Haven said her name, looking as excited as she felt inside. “I missed you!”

  She started crying out and Haven ran over to her, shushing her. “You have to be quiet before they hear!”

  Haven got down on her knees, reaching her hand through the links in the cage. “Mama’s working in the greenhouse again,” she told her. “Master’s crop is sick and he told Mama she better fix it, but I don’t think she knows how. She asked me if it looked like she had a green thumb, but when I tried to look at her thumb she told me I was being silly. So I don’t know if she does. ”

  Chloe just stared at her. Haven guessed she didn’t know, either.

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