Sempre redemption, p.8
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       Sempre: Redemption, p.8

         Part #2 of Forever series by J. M. Darhower
Page 8


  Climbing out of bed, she quietly made her way to the door, the faint sound of “Moonlight Sonata” meeting her ears. The disjointed notes washed through her, the familiar broken melody forcing a frown onto her lips.

  Carmine sat in his usual chair in the library, casually strumming his guitar. A sliver of light filtered in from the large window, illuminating his somber expression in the darkness. She called his name but he remained still, continuing to pluck at the strings almost as if he hadn’t heard her. She took a step toward him and was about to say his name again when he let out a long, deep sigh. “I had a dream. ”

  “Another nightmare?” she asked, walking over to him. He glanced up at her as his fingers stilled, the music stopping, but Haven barely noticed. She couldn’t focus on anything but the green eyes boring into her. Once so alive with passion, she saw nothing but deep sadness marring the bright color.

  Carmine set the guitar aside and moved his legs to make room, motioning for her to join him. She climbed into his lap and he wrapped his arms around her.

  “Not a nightmare this time,” he said. “It was a good dream. ”

  “What was it about?”

  “You,” he said quietly. “You made a painting—some abstract shit, I don’t know—but it was so good they hung it in a museum and raved about how talented you were. It was like you were the next fucking Picasso, tesoro. ”

  She laughed. “I don’t even know how to paint, Carmine. ”

  “You could learn,” he said. “Would you want to?”

  “Maybe, but I don’t know how good I’d be. ”

  “Oh, you’d be good,” he said confidently. “You shouldn’t doubt yourself. You can do anything you set your mind to. ”

  “Except for play the piano,” she said playfully. “Or the guitar. ”

  He chuckled. “Yeah, for the sake of everyone’s ears, we ought to leave music to me, but the rest is all you. You can probably do all of that, you know. Draw, paint, sculpt shit into weird shapes and tell people it’s something it doesn’t look anything like. That takes talent. ”

  She smiled. “And you think I have that kind of talent?”

  “Of course,” he said. “There’s gonna be no stopping you once you get started. ”

  “Thank you,” she whispered, a swell of emotion surging through her at his words. “It means a lot that you believe in me. ”

  “I’d be an idiot not to,” he said, kissing the top of her head. “You know, we never finished our conversation from the other day. ”

  “Which one?”

  “The one about your freedom. ”

  Haven sighed, snuggling closer to him. “What else is there to say?”

  “I wanna hear what it really means to you. ”

  * * *

  They spent the next hour sitting together in front of the window in the dark library, digging into each other’s minds. They didn’t talk about the torture they had endured or the hurt they still felt, instead focusing on the things that made them happy. He asked about her deepest desires, wanting to know what kind of things she would do if she woke up tomorrow with a clean slate. What would she do, if someday, she could start over, brand new?

  She talked of friends and a family, a house full of books and half a dozen pets. The American Dream, complete with two-point-five kids and a freshly painted white picket fence, weekend barbecues with neighbors and summer vacations to Disneyland.

  It felt like everything else faded away that long moment, the reality of their situation taking a back seat as they considered an alternate future, one Haven had always wanted but never believed she could have. A future away from it all. A future with no strings.


  “I just want people to see me,” she said. “I want to walk into a room and have them know I’m there. It doesn’t matter where it is, really. I’m just don’t want to be invisible anymore. ”

  Carmine ran the back of his hand along her warm cheek. She hummed contently, leaning into his touch.

  “I see you, hummingbird,” he whispered, a twinkle in his eyes.

  “I know you do. ”

  “You wanna know what else I see?”

  “What?” she asked.

  He nodded toward the window. “Snow. ”

  Haven glanced over, spotting the thick white flakes fluttering down from the sky. Before she could comment, Carmine jumped up and yanked her to her feet. “Come on. ”

  She laughed as he pulled her into the bedroom. “What are we doing?”

  “We’re going outside. ”

  “Now?” she asked with disbelief, glancing at the clock when he let go of her hand. The red numbers shone brightly in the darkness: one in the morning.

  He shoved open the bedroom window. It groaned, but offered little resistance. Cold air entered the room in a whoosh, stirring the thick curtains and making Haven shiver. Wrapping her arms around herself, her brow furrowed in confusion. “Didn’t Dr. DeMarco nail that down?”

  “Yeah, but he did a shitty job,” Carmine replied. “I pried it back open. ”

  Haven wanted to ask when he had done it, or even why he bothered, but she didn’t have a chance. Carmine had his shoes on and was already preparing to leave.

  “Come on,” he said again, tossing her coat to her. He was halfway out the window before she could think to object.

  Haven quickly bundled up before joining him on the long balcony that wrapped around the house. It was the third time she had navigated it, but this time was more difficult than the other two. A light sheen of frost covered everything, making Haven slip a little as she walked along the narrow wooden path toward the massive tree on the corner. It was barren, the leaves long gone as winter settled in, but the thick branches were as sturdy as ever.

  “Is this necessary?” Haven asked as she started climbing the tree. “Couldn’t we have gone out the door?”

  “We could’ve,” Carmine said, jumping down to the ground, “but where’s the fun in that?”

  Haven managed to scale the first few obstacles easily, but her foot slipped when she neared the bottom of the tree. She lost her grip on the branch and screeched, closing her eyes when she started to fall. She braced herself for sudden impact, but Carmine reacted quickly. He grabbed her, attempting to gracefully catch her, but the blow knocked them both down.

  Carmine groaned as the air was brutally forced from his lungs. Haven pulled away from him, rolling over. The frozen earth felt like solid concrete against her back. “That was sure . . . fun. ”

  “Yeah, I didn’t think that shit through,” Carmine said, standing up. He brushed at his clothes before grabbing Haven’s hand and pulling her to her feet. “Maybe we should’ve just used the damn door. ”

  The cold night air felt like pins and needles, stabbing against Haven’s flushed face, but she smiled regardless as she took in her surroundings. The flakes were starting to settle on the ground, dotting the lifeless grass with small patches of white. Thick clouds covered the sky, blocking the stars from view, but the vibrant moon continued to shine through. There were no animals or birds out at that hour, no fireflies flickering in the night—no sign of life except for the two of them.

  It was as if they were alone in the world, and as terrifying as that was to Haven—the thought of nothing else existing anymore—she felt secure knowing at least he was still out there.

  She took a few steps out into the yard, glancing up into the sky as snow rained down on her. Wetness hit her skin, coldness seeping through her clothes. A chill ran through her body as she closed her eyes and opened her mouth, capturing some of the bland flakes on her tongue.

  Despite the fact that it was bitterly cold, warmth spread through her.

  Haven opened her eyes and peeked over at Carmine to find him staring at her. Flakes stuck to his thick, dark locks, and she reached up, running her fingers through his hair to wipe them away.

  “You’re beautiful, tesoro,” he said quietly.

; Heat rose to her cheeks at his words. “Such a charmer. ”

  “Run away with me,” he continued, leaning down to softly kiss her lips. “We can disappear before the sun comes up. ”

  Pressing her hand against his chest, she pushed away from Carmine with a laugh. “We can’t run away. ”

  He sighed. “It’s a nice dream, though, isn’t it?”

  “I don’t know how nice it would be,” she replied. “How would we ever feel safe if we constantly had to watch our backs? I don’t want to run from anything anymore. I’m tired of running. I want to be able to walk away, just stroll away somewhere together, hand in hand, nothing else mattering. I want to stand at an intersection and choose which way to go without having to worry about what happens if it leads us somewhere someone else doesn’t want us to be. Now that’s a nice dream. ”

  “Yeah, you’re right,” he said, still staring at her. “Beautiful and smart. ”

  She timidly ducked her head, peering at the ground as her blush deepened. She started kicking around at the small accumulation, her toe digging into the frozen dirt. “Does it snow a lot in Chicago?”

  Carmine was quiet for a moment. She glanced back at him, seeing he wasn’t watching her anymore. He stared off into the distance, a dazed look on his face. “Too much,” he said eventually. “I like snow and all, but they get blizzards. I’m not looking forward to it. ”

  “But think of all the snowmen and snow angels and the snowball fights. ”

  His lips curved into a smile, but she could see the sadness back in his eyes. She felt guilty for bringing up Chicago, not wanting to ruin his mood. It wasn’t often they had carefree moments anymore.

  “It snows in New York, too,” he said. “Just as much as it snows in Chicago. ”

  “I bet Central Park is beautiful when it’s all white,” she said. “Actually, I bet it’s beautiful all year round. I’d love to see it someday. ”

  “You will,” he said, turning back to her. His smile faded. “You look cold. ”

  Her fingers were numb already, the tips of her ears stinging, but she just shrugged, not wanting the moment to be over yet.

  Carmine pulled her into his arms, his body heat instantly warming her. Snuggling into his chest, she wrapped her arms around him as she hugged him tightly. He leaned his head on top of hers, a soft hum vibrating Carmine’s chest as the snow continued to fall, covering them.

  The melody was sweet and vaguely familiar. It took a minute for it to register with Haven. “Blue October,” she whispered, recalling the song they had made love to on Valentine’s Day.

  “You remember,” he said.

  “How could I not?” she whispered as he continued humming, the sound slowly turning into words as he began to sing. A chill ran down her spine, her heart aching when his voice cracked on the words.

  A strange feeling brewed in the pit of Haven’s stomach, longing and desperation mixing with fear. Fear’s healthy, she tried to remind herself, but it didn’t feel like it at the moment. It felt crippling, like the fortress walls she had built that kept her safe and at home were on the verge of collapsing.

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