(Prologue and Chapter 1)
She had played the scenario out in her mind at least a million times. The outcome was always the same, but her approach was different. She didn’t know what would be best. Accusations of abandonment? Sympathy for the difficult choices life forced her to make? Immediate acceptance despite the pain and confusion? She wasn’t sure which approach would result in the best outcome.
She was angry. Her entire life was a lie, yet her parents led her to believe that nothing was out of place. They all had a role to play and played it flawlessly. She thought that they wanted what was best for her when they were only looking out for themselves.
People she didn’t know filed into the upholstered seats around the floral trellis. This wasn’t her day, but it was undoubtedly about her. She painted a smile on her face, anxiously scanning the eyes staring back at her. Some looked familiar, and some looked unknown. The face she searched for was both comforting and strange.
Her eyes scanned the crowd haphazardly until she settled on a man and older woman across the aisle. She was looking in a mirror. Same petite frame, same round eyes, and same crooked smile stared back at her. It was her, just older. Her body filled with heat, and her feet started to sweat. She pulled off her pumps and placed her feet in the cool, dry grass. The blades rubbed her feet and sent shivers up her spine to the base of her neck.
The room began to spin. She couldn’t take her eyes off of her. She wondered if she knew she was there or if she thought she would be alone, unnoticed. The bride and groom walked down the aisle, declaring their love. All the buried emotions emerged as a twister, preparing to touch down and wreak havoc on the lives of many.
She gulped down the rest of the wine she sneaked to her seat, hiding the glass behind the chair's leg. Liquid courage traversed throughout her body, and her bravery overpowered her fear. She knew it was risky because the truth could come out, but it needed to be said. She rehearsed it over and over in her mind. Suddenly, she was standing face to face with the ghost of her past, despite her ignorance and naivety.
She screamed out the words in her head, but her mouth remained silent. Mom, why did you leave me?
Carly pulled on a t-shirt and her favorite cardigan and pulled open the blinds in her bedroom. The sunlight poured through the window and shined a patch of bright light against the floorboards. The warmth of the sun rejuvenated her, and she wondered how she slept the entire morning away.
“John?” she called out, unsure if he was still in the apartment.
“Morning!” he called from the couch, watching television. He looked at her with a grin and patted the seat next to him. “How was work last night?” he asked.
“It was okay. I was off early last night. Even though I don’t make as much money, I love coming home before midnight. I feel more human when I go to bed at a normal time. How was your night?” She chipped at her flaking nail polish, scraping at her cuticle bed.
“I think I got home around seven last night and was passed out on the couch by nine,” John replied.
Carly nodded. “Yeah, when we were younger, I could handle the late nights, but now, I’m too old!” she exclaimed. “My body is giving out on me.” She grinned and leaned into his hard frame.
“Was it busy?” he asked.
“Yeah, it wasn’t too bad. We were short-staffed, so my section was two tables larger. By the end of the night, my feet were killing me, but at least I walked away with more money than I expected.” John didn’t know it, but Carly saved all her extra money for those “just-in-case” moments. Her past with John taught her that she should never be too comfortable.
“Restaurant life is harder in your forties than it is in your twenties. It’s just like fishing. Everything takes more effort, and your body takes a beating,” John said.
Carly nodded. “When we lived here ten years ago, I was a superstar waitress. I was quick on my feet, I could juggle multiple tables, and I never messed up. Now, if I have more than three tables at a time, I have to write down everything because I can’t remember. And my body doesn’t rebound the way it used to.” She stretched her back, cracking her shoulders in the process.
Today was John’s only day off. He and Carly decided that his weekends would be dedicated to them and them alone. John had probably been up since five and would be in bed before the sun set and awake before the sun rose to get back on the lobster boat.
“What do you want to do today?” he asked.
Carly’s body felt broken, and she knew John’s body felt the same. “Let’s go downtown, grab a late lunch or early dinner at the pub, and then watch the sunset over the harbor.” The sun set around seven or so, so they would have plenty of time to get back for John to go to sleep. Carly snuggled up against John’s warm, muscular body. She traced her fingers the distance of his tattoo, which enveloped his forearm.
“Sounds great,” John said, kissing her tenderly.
The sunrise was Carly’s favorite time of day. When she ran the inn, she would look outside her window and watch the purples and pinks mix and mingle in the sky. It set her day up for success. Now, she never saw the sun rise. When she wasn’t working, sunsets became the next best thing.
Carly and John sat on the bench overlooking the harbor. At night, especially during the summer, live music played around downtown Portland. People walked arm in arm, laughing and chatting about their day. The energy during high tourist season buzzed with excitement and caused Carly to feel alive.
The light from the setting sun reflected off the top of the water, causing the waves to look golden metallic within the ebb and flow of constant movement. The sky filled with activity, and brush strokes of pink and purple wrapped around the deepening grey clouds.
John and Carly sat in silence as they watched the sky transition from day to night. The vehicle engines rolled by, music poured out of the restaurants' open windows, and the waves collided against each other. The various noises created a beautiful symphony of city life.
Carly enjoyed her day with John. She was still exhausted but grateful to have five hours with him. She knew that the following week would be a repeat of this week, and she felt a heaviness weigh down on her shoulders and heart. It didn’t seem fair that they were here, again, facing the same struggles they met a decade before. A decade earlier, they didn’t make it out of the stress and chaos together.
As soon as the sun disappeared behind the horizon and the cotton candy sky swirled away, John and Carly walked home. Carly knew John’s first love was fishing, and he committed tireless hours to his career. His only time to live life was during the winter season when he was unemployed. He had been honest with Carly when she decided to move back in with him, but she didn’t realize how empty his work hours would make her feel.
They moved in together six months ago, and it had been incredible. They found a new apartment, decorated it together, binge-watched tv, and alternated between cooking and eating out. They spent all their time together, and Carly found herself close to John again. They sneaked kisses morning, noon, and night. They only wanted to be with each other. It was an incredible six months full of togetherness, unity, and passion.
Now, six months later, reality pressed her down, and the contrast between the high and low was so great, Carly almost wished the high hadn’t existed. If she hadn’t experienced the closeness and euphoria they created, she wouldn’t miss it so much when it dissipated. Carly struggled with accepting that her life would be a constant yo-yo of good and evil, fun and boring, and love and like.
John kissed Carly gently on the mouth, told her he had a great night, and stumbled into bed. Carly looked at her watch. It was only eight, and she didn’t have to work until tomorrow afternoon. Carly curled up on the couch with Ruth’s blanket covering her legs. Carly traced the knitted design that her mother created. The wool scent reminded Carly of the inn, and she was transported back to her childhood.
She settled on a movie and sank further into the flat, worn cushions on their tiny loveseat. She listened to the muffled snores escape from the bedroom and turned up the volume to drown out the noise.