Fighting to be free, p.35
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       Fighting to Be Free, p.35

         Part #1 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley
 

  around me. I was so lonely and broken that I didn’t leave the hotel room for four days, and then, on the fifth day, I’d ventured out to the market and run into someone—literally run into someone—who’d seemed to make it a mission to make me smile again. It was working, a little. Each day got just that little bit easier, and just that little bit less painful.

  My family had been less than supportive when I’d called them. As soon as they found out I was alone in a foreign country, my dad was ranting that I had to get on the first flight back. He’d threatened to fly out and get me if necessary, but thankfully, I’d avoided that so far. We weren’t exactly on good terms at the moment. Every time I spoke to them they argued that I should come home, that it wasn’t safe for an eighteen-year-old girl to travel alone, that they’d only agreed to the trip because of Jamie coming with me.

  I hadn’t told them the full extent of what had happened, I’d simply said that we’d broken up and that I’d decided to still go. The plan was to go for two weeks, because that was how long Jamie and I had booked the hotel in Rome for, but my new friend had persuaded me that I needed to see Florence before I went home. So we’d been here a week, and then I’d somehow been convinced that we needed to go to Venice, which is where we were heading tomorrow. At this rate I couldn’t see myself going home anytime soon.

  Sighing, I stirred my coffee absentmindedly, letting my thoughts wander to dangerous places where I really shouldn’t allow them to go. I thought about Jamie’s kisses, his smile, the warmth of his hand as he caressed my cheek, how his hard body would wrap itself around mine while I slept. I could almost still taste him on my tongue if I thought about it hard enough.

  Over the last three weeks I’d allowed myself to call him only once, hoping that he was regretting his decision and that he missed me too—but that call was pretty pointless because his cell phone number was no longer in use. No one had heard from him at all. Stacey told me that my dad had gone around to his place wanting to “speak” to him about me, but that apparently he’d moved out and his apartment was already rented to another tenant.

  A chair scraping on concrete snapped me out of my reverie, and I looked up into the grinning face of Natalie, my new little traveling buddy. I smiled back as she nodded down at my coffee. “You order me one of those?” she asked, her voice a little husky, probably from all the drunken singing we’d done in the karaoke bar last night.

  “Nope. Didn’t know how long you’d be in the shower for; you know you spend hours in there,” I joked.

  She grinned and waved for the waitress, putting in her order, too. She sat back in her chair and blew out a big breath as she adjusted her huge black fashion shades and smoothed back her damp brown hair. “You suffering this morning after drinking so much?” she asked, laughing.

  I shrugged. “Not too bad, actually. You?”

  She nodded, lifting her shades and fixing her bloodshot eyes on me. “Not taking these off today, that’s for sure,” she replied sheepishly. Both of us ignored the Italian lady at the table, who was now engrossed in her book anyway.

  I’d been with Natalie for just over two weeks now, and in that time, we’d become great friends. She was a little older than me at twenty-two, but we had a lot in common. She was American too, and had just finished college and wanted to travel before she got a job. She was on her own as well, so when we hit it off in Rome we decided to stick together and explore for a bit.

  “You were talking in your sleep so much last night,” Natalie grumbled. “At one point I actually considered smothering you with a pillow, but then I realized that spending time in an Italian jail probably wouldn’t look good on my résumé.”

  I laughed and smiled apologetically. I’d always thought Jamie was kidding around when he told me I talked in my sleep. “Sorry. What was it about this time? Alien abduction?”

  She sighed and shook her head. “No. You were talking about him again.”

  My stomach twisted in a knot. “Oh.”

  She reached across the table, taking my hand in hers and squeezing supportively. “It’ll get easier, I promise,” she assured me. “Besides, the guy was obviously a moron for letting you go in the first place, so it’s his loss. I don’t swing that way, but if I did, I’d bang you.”

  I laughed because this was just what she was like; she always knew how to lighten the mood. “I don’t know whether to take that as a compliment or be slightly worried about sleeping in bed with you tonight,” I replied, fighting the tears that were pooling in my eyes.

  She grinned wolfishly. “I’ll try my hardest not to jump you, cross my heart,” she vowed, crossing her heart with one finger.

  I smiled and tuned out as she started to ramble about what we should do today, on our last day in Florence. My mind wandered to Jamie and I glanced at the little bracelet on my wrist, the one he’d given me for my birthday. Deep down I knew I should take it off and throw it into the river in some sort of metaphorical gesture that I was moving on and was over him, but every time I thought about removing the bracelet from my wrist, it made my heart ache even more. Maybe one day I’d be able to take it off and let go. Maybe Natalie was right, maybe one day I’d stop thinking about what I’d lost, and I’d see the beauty in everything again. I sighed and looked up at the blue sky, just praying that day would come quickly.

  JAMIE

  I sat at the table, waiting. Waiting wasn’t one of my strengths at the moment. Huffing out a big breath, I tried to settle the apprehension that had taken root at the bottom of my stomach. But it was no use; I’d been a ball of nerves for the last three weeks, since I’d been arrested.

  My eyes stung, so I rubbed at them with fisted hands. I frowned when my mind wandered to Ellie again. Thoughts of her were both torturous and beautiful at the same time. Memories of her made my heart ache and my palms sweaty. I hated myself for hurting her, but I was confident that I’d made the right choice in setting her free. I loved her too much to make her wait around for me.

  In hindsight, though, I knew I shouldn’t have been as harsh to her as I was. I’d told some gut-wrenching lies to her on the phone that day—ginormous lies that had almost choked me. They still haunted me. But I knew I’d done the right thing. I couldn’t let her set foot in a place like this to visit me; she was better than this, much better. That knowledge didn’t make it hurt any less, though. In fact, I felt lower right now than I’d ever felt in my life, and that included when I’d lost Sophie.

  My nerves were frayed, and I couldn’t stop my leg from bouncing on the spot. Around me, other inmates, each sporting the same orange jumpsuit that I was wearing, sat at their own tables. A commotion caught everyone’s attention. Every face turned toward the heavy metal door at the end of the large room. A hopeful and excited expression covered even the hardest and most weary face.

  Today was visiting day, and for the second time since I’d been arrested, I had a visitor.

  I stood, shuffling on my feet, rubbing a hand over my prison-standard shaven hair, watching people walk in. Ray was second to last to enter. He looked good. Maybe a little tired, but still good. When he spotted me, his posture loosened, and a grin stretched across his face as he began to weave his way cautiously through the room.

  When he got to my table, he stepped to the side and pulled me into a hug, slapping my back just that little bit too hard to be comforting.

  “Are you all right, Kid?”

  I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Apart from my lawyer and the guards, no one had called me Jamie since I’d been arrested.

  I nodded, shrugging nonchalantly. “Yeah. You look good,” I replied, stepping away and sitting in my hard plastic chair.

  He smiled weakly, taking the seat opposite mine. “Yeah.” He shifted, twiddling his thumbs. “How’s it going in here?”

  “Fine.” That was hopefully a good enough answer to placate him for a while.

  “And Shaun, how’s he doing?” he pressed.

  “He’s doing all right. There’s a couple
of people here that he knew from the outside so he’s keeping his head down with them and staying out of trouble,” I answered. Shaun was doing good, really; he’d made a couple of acquaintances that benefited us both because we could join a group rather than be on our own, vulnerable and easy targets. We had each other’s backs. So far, there had been minimal trouble, which was good. I knew it wouldn’t last forever, though. “How’s your wife and daughter, and have you found a new job yet?” I asked, wanting to change the subject.

  He frowned. “The family are good. And no, I haven’t been looking for a job yet. I’ve had a couple of people approach me about coming to work for them, but I’ve decided to take a break for a while.” His frown deepened. “Brett’s funeral was last week. He’d have been proud that so many people showed up to pay their respects. The place was packed full.”

  I smiled sadly, feeling that dull ache in my chest grow more acute. I’d missed his funeral. That hurt. “That’s great that he had a lot of people to see him off.”

  Silence fell over us as Ray looked at me intently, his eyes boring into mine as if he was trying to read my mind and tune in to my feelings. “How are you really?”

  “Coping.” That wasn’t a lie, somehow I was coping. I didn’t know how I was, but I was managing to hang on to my sanity and not let the depression get me.

  Sighing, I decided to broach the subject, bring up the only thing that had been on my mind since it happened. I sat forward, clasping my hands together. “So, where is she now?”

  He sighed and settled back in his chair. “Florence,” he answered. “But she’s going to Venice tomorrow.”

  I nodded, processing the information. “Is she doing better, or …” I trailed off, not wanting to know the answer but needing to.

  Ray shrugged, fiddling with the cuff of his sweater. “She’s doing a little better. Natalie said that she’s still upset, she still—” He stopped talking suddenly, gulping and shaking his head as if he didn’t want to say it.

  “She still what?” I prompted. I needed to know if she was okay, I needed to know she was safe; that information was the difference between life and death for me.

  He looked at me apologetically as he answered. “She still cries for you and talks about you in her sleep.”

  I groaned, closing my eyes, hating myself. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, she wasn’t supposed to hurt. “Tell Natalie to up the act a little, take her to see more sights, spend more money. I don’t care how long it takes or how many places they have to go, just tell her to help her,” I begged.

  Ray’s sister-in-law, Natalie, had been at loose ends since she finished college. She was bored and wanted to see the world, but had no money, while I had more than a hundred thousand dollars in the bank and the girl I loved was alone in Rome. Once I’d come up with the idea and pitched it to Ray, it hadn’t taken much convincing on his part to get Natalie to agree to a stealth mission to cheer Ellie up. She got to travel, no expense spared, and I got the peace of mind to know that Ellie wasn’t alone in a foreign country.

  Ellie didn’t know, of course. I’d told Ray that it had to look like a chance meeting between the two girls, that they both needed a friend and traveling buddy. From what I’d heard, Natalie had run through a market and almost knocked Ellie over when they met. So far, my plan was working out perfectly. Apparently, according to Ray’s regular phone calls over the last three weeks, the two girls had become great friends.

  In time, Ray’s sister-in-law would stop my little girl from hurting over me. That was worth any amount of money to me. And in the meantime, I got regular updates on how Ellie was doing.

  “I brought you a couple of photos. Nat emailed them over to me yesterday. I left them with the guards for you,” Ray said quietly.

  I smiled gratefully, already wishing I were back in my cell so that I could have them, hold them, and see her beautiful face. The only things I had of Ellie’s to remind me of her were one picture that Ray had found in my apartment when he cleared it for me and a note that she’d written to me the day we were due to catch our flight and start our new life together. She’d left it on top of my suitcase, along with my spare key. The note was a little dog-eared now. I read it several times a day, and it never ceased to make my heart race.

  “Thanks, Ray. You’ve been great, you know.”

  He waved his hand dismissively. “It’s the least I could do. So, any news on a date for your sentencing?”

  I nodded, rubbing at the back of my neck where the rough prison-issue jumpsuit scratched at my skin. “Yeah, it’s in about a month.”

  Arthur Barrington was pushing to get the case moved up sooner. I’d already pleaded guilty to illegal possession of a firearm, but the courts were busy with other cases, so my sentencing was dragging on and on. I knew I would be in here for at least a year, though, so I guess it didn’t really matter when they confirmed it. Mr. Barrington had done his part as promised; he’d negotiated with police to drop all other charges against me and Shaun. How he’d done it I had no idea, but the guy must have a lot of friends in high places and have called in a lot of favors. I was currently serving out the remainder of my sentence for killing Ralf while I waited for my new sentence to be added into the mix.

  My lawyer had also done his best to keep my involvement in the raid hidden from as many people as possible—and that specifically included his son, Miles. I couldn’t have it get back to Ellie that I’d lied to her to set her free—at least, not until the time was right. The press hadn’t printed our names; they had bigger fish to fry, considering that the Lazlos were there that night, too. No one was interested in the small people like me and Shaun, which worked out to my advantage.

  Ray nodded, sighing. “I sure wish there was something I could do to help you, Kid. You don’t deserve to be here, you’re a good guy.”

  I smiled at the warm tone of his voice. “You’re already helping me. The only thing that’s important is her, so just keep your eye on her for me, that’s all I need.” Ellie’s happiness was the only thing I had left in this world; I had to know that she was okay after what I’d done. I cleared my throat, needing a change of subject because thoughts of her were painful. “How are those Yankees doing?”

  He laughed quietly, and conversation changed to easier, lighter topics until the buzzer sounded, signaling the end of visiting time. A frown slipped onto Ray’s face as he looked at the clock mounted on the wall. “Shit, that went too fast,” he mumbled.

  I stood, actually a little grateful for the time to be up. Making conversation and pretending I was fine was hard and exhausting. “Time flies when you’re having fun.”

  He smiled sadly as he stood and stepped to the side of the table, pulling me into another hug. “Just keep your head down and stay out of trouble,” he instructed, looking into my eyes.

  “Will do,” I answered. At least, I’d try. Thing was, in places like this, trouble was sometimes unavoidable. “I’ll call you in a couple of days and get an update. Tell Natalie to spend whatever she wants, buy Ellie some stuff, get her drunk, I don’t know, just tell her to cheer her up, okay?”

  “I will. I’ll see you next week, yeah?” People were leaving now, and a guard stepped subtly to the edge of our table, silently indicating that I was to leave, too.

  I shrugged. “Sure.” Lie. I wouldn’t see him again now; I could get updates over the phone. I couldn’t sit through another hour of polite chitchat while I pretended I wasn’t dying inside.

  He smiled, looking a little relieved, so he obviously bought my lies. “Take care of yourself.”

  “I will. You too, and take care of your girls,” I instructed. I didn’t want him to have to feel what it was like to lose a girl you loved. This was agony and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I turned and marched toward the convicts’ door at the back of the room, following other inmates.

  After another thorough search to make sure we hadn’t been passed anything during the visit, we were finally allowed to go back to the cell block. W
hen the guard handed me a flat manila envelope, a lump formed in my throat because I knew what would be inside.

  I headed back to my cell quickly, weaving through the populated area, not making eye contact with anyone and ignoring Shaun, who called out to me and waved me over to the table where he was playing cards with some other inmates. I shook my head quickly in rejection, holding up the envelope as an excuse as I marched purposefully up three flights of metal stairs and finally made it to the cell that I shared with the skinniest man I had ever met.

  Thankfully, my cellmate was out somewhere, so I flopped on my bed and took a deep breath before opening the envelope and pulling out three photos.

  A groan left my lips at the sight of the first one. Ellie was sitting at a little table, drinking coffee. Her hair was pulled up into a messy knot at the back of her head and her shades were tucked into her hair. From her expression, it seemed as if she hadn’t realized that the photo was being taken. She looked beautiful, so incredible that it made my whole body ache. She wasn’t smiling, though, and the gray eyes that I loved so much looked closed off and sad. The photo broke my heart a little more. All I wanted was to wrap her in my arms and do everything in my power to take that sadness from her eyes.

  The next photo was better; someone else had obviously taken it as there were two girls in this one, standing side by side, arms linked as they smiled and posed in front of a fountain. Ellie had on little denim shorts and a loose blue T-shirt that hung off one shoulder, exposing a thin hot-pink strap that I knew belonged to her bikini because I was the one who bought it for her.

  I shuffled to the last one and gasped in shock as my body jerked involuntarily. She was wearing said hot-pink bikini in this picture. She stood by the side of a pool, doing a silly pose, one hand on her hip, the other on the side of her head as pouted exaggeratedly. She was obviously laughing and joking around for the photo. My eyes raked down her body, taking in every inch of the skin that I knew like the back of my hand. She looked incredible, and I knew this photo would keep me awake at night, but I loved Ray for putting it in there for me. I traced the line of her leg with one finger, wishing I could actually feel the softness of her and the warmth of her skin. I would give anything to be in this photo with her.

  Loneliness settled in the pit of my stomach as I rolled to the side, my eyes just roaming the picture, taking in every single part of her all over again as memories of her flooded my brain. Knowing she was so far away was torture. Knowing there was a good chance she hated me for what I’d said to her, knowing I’d broken her heart, caused me actual physical pain.

  “Just a year, little girl. In a year, when I’m out, I’ll win you back,” I whispered to the photo. “I will.” I nodded with determination. I had to win her back. Ellie was my life; without her there was no point to anything. I’d done what I felt was the honorable thing in setting her free so she wasn’t waiting for me and could live her life, but as soon as I was out I’d do everything in my power to make her mine again. Ellie and I were meant to be
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