Read along (Weekly quick reads writing challenge)
A chapter by chapter read along for followers of my blog.
‘You okay baby girl?’ My sister brushes the damp strands of hair that have become stuck to my soaked cheek, while pouring my broken soul down my face. I have been crying for a solid hour as my heart breaks in two and my happiness is reduced to dust and grimy ashes. Curled up on this single bed in a room that is now mine, in a home hundreds of miles from where it longs to be. I’m pining and falling to pieces with every passing day. All my resolve dying a slow death of torture.
It’s been two weeks since I walked out on Luke and headed here. Two miserably lonely, long dark weeks of doubts and regret and I am at breaking point. I can’t eat, sleep or just be, without being consumed by him. His face, his laugh, his smile. So many memories of my fair-haired boy and those strong shoulders calling me from afar. I miss his hugs, god more than anything I miss his touch.
‘No. I want to go home. I want Luke.’ I break again, voice strangled through muffled sniffs and watery despair Heart wrenching in two and collapse into a crumbled heap in her strong arms. Succumbing to the overwhelming pain that is consuming me. My body feels bruised and weak, my insides sharp yet heavy as though everything inside of me has turned to stone.
‘You knew this would be hard, Meel’s. You knew this would happen and you just have to ride the waves. Going back won’t fix things.’ Claire croons at me in that baby voice she used to use whenever I had a boo boo as a kid. She talks sense and deep down I know her words are wise, but the heart doesn’t want to hear it and I wail in disagreement. Refusing to contemplate anything other than what I want anymore.
‘How do you know? No one knows! Maybe…just maybe…’ I start, scrambling backwards to fix her with a loaded look of conviction, blood pumping through my ears and brain like a violent waterfall and confusing everything. Face sodden, skin raw. I can’t think straight while this overwhelming pounding, throbbing ache of despair affects every cell of my body. I can barely breathe, and my lungs are laboring under my hysterical tense despair.
‘You are too young and too unfulfilled to settle. You have dreams and hopes and Luke is the same. You both need to just find yourselves before you can be happy together again. Let it happen, baby. Let him go to college and you too. If it’s meant to be then you will find a way back together. If you go back now you know that boy is going to throw away his future to save his relationship with you and you will both be back to square one in no time at all. Trust me on this. You both need time to grow.’ Her soothing, warm tone and gentle words as she strokes my hair and cuddles me up tight like I’m her child and not her sibling, younger by a mere seven years. Not giving me a choice but pulling me back to her and ignoring my stubborn fight. Too practiced at controlling me from years of being my only maternal female in our home. I guess those years make a difference though as she only wed just over a year back and her path seems to be blooming and full of adventure instead of the dead-end hard wall that I hit. Maybe she is right, and age means a whole lot in terms of being ready. Claire seems deliriously so with her lot in life. A huge contrast to the way I was existing with Luke in matrimonial un-bliss.
‘What if I made a mistake?’ silent warm droplets roll down my cheeks, giving up as the last of my energy disperses. That little voice inside of me refusing to be silenced while my mind is full of visions of him.
‘What if you didn’t and your heart knew deep down, you were doing what is best for you?’
I hate that my sister has always had this way of turning me around and making me think. With so few words and no real hostile tone to be seen. She always was a master of gentle and I can’t dislike her for it in this moment. She was a mother figure in some ways as I grew up, the only one I knew, I guess. My own mother passing from giving birth to me and I have never known anything else. She is just a face in pictures and a name in stories that happened before I existed. Claire was my hugs and my lessons in life. She taught me how to put on pantyhose and how to blush my cheeks. She taught me about the birds and the bees and how to bake the best apple pie in the whole damn south.
I guess I never really thought about how much of her own childhood she gave up before, to be what I needed as I grew. By the time I was ten she was seventeen and she took me everywhere with her when she could. Papa was working a lot at the mill, but Claire always came home for me getting out of school and made sure I had my hot meals and my hugs, my bedtime stories and my hair braided every Sunday for church. I owe my sister so much.
‘I don’t know what I want.’ It’s a heartbroken sob, a wail of sorts, my insides aching and twisted up so that I feel like it may actually kill me. A pain so exquisite that nothing in life can ever compare or really describe how it feels. Like gutting a fish, except I am the unfortunate creature, and someone is pulling my insides out through the slit in my belly.
‘No one does at nineteen, sweet-pea. You have to find your way and figure out who you are. Luke needs to do the same to become the man he can be. You weren’t happy and neither was he and it changed you both. Let it go. If you love each other then you will find each other when you are ready. If not, then your heart will have found something else by then.’ Calm, smooth words forma girl who is way wiser than her twenty-six years on earth.
‘You make it sound so easy but what about how much it hurts. How much I miss him. How afraid I am that he will move onto to someone else and forget me’
‘If he does then that’s not your path. It’s going to hurt, anything worthwhile comes with effort. Pain is a part of life and in time you will learn to overcome it and move on. Just like I did when mama died. Lord I thought I would just die and here we are, 19 years on – loving my little sister as if she were my own, looking forward to my own little ones soon enough.‘ A warm smile, a kiss tenderly on my forehead as I blink up at her. Wide eyed and lost.
I stare at her for the longest moment, watching that still face , filled with compassion. The soft gentle features of my southern belle sister; so in contrast to me. Her fair hair and blue eyes much like the woman in the pictures I call my mother yet so many years younger than the pictures I have of her. I’m like my father, god rest his soul, with dark hair and hazel eyes, dazzling a hint of green in the depths. I miss him so much it just kills me inside and I wonder how different things would be if he hadn’t died the sudden way he did.
If he were here, he would know what to do. It wouldn’t have gone the way it did. I would have applied to college like intended, as the money wouldn’t have been needed to keep us afloat and bury him. I would have stuck with the plan, our future thought out and Luke and I would have dated long distance until we graduated.
We would have come home on weekends and holidays and still been together and happy like we were meant to be. We would have had time to grow and find our feet before getting married and throwing away our innocence and youth to become adults. We only did this because of how everything was thrown at me all at once and I was left with a house alone and no way to pay the bills. Right out of high school, a part time job in the diner and grieving. My sister hundreds of miles away with her own home to pay for and new husband to stay away with, I couldn’t have asked her to give up all that to come back. Claire was never going to stay in Denville. It’s not where her heart lay. She was never a small-town country girl they way daddy and I were. Claire wanted bright city lights and busy bustling adventures.
It was all too much for us try as he might, Luke wasn’t ready to should all that responsibility and throw his dreams away too. We’re kids. We’re not ready and if I go back now, she is right. He will stop any plans he has in motion to go to school and stay with me to work this out, putting us right back in that pit of despair. He wouldn’t leave me to struggle alone so it’s a no-win situation.
The baby wasn’t planned and as much as it pains me to say, it’s passing was a blessing. It saved us from being tied down in ways neither of us would have walked away from. It hurt like hell to lose that tiny little piece of us just as we were getting used to its existence. I thought I had suffered in ways that nothing else could come up against, but I was wrong. Pain is funny thing and even when you are twisted in agony and unable to feel any more than you’re carrying, it somehow finds a way to cut deeper. And it did, so deep I just stopped feeling anything at all. I think it killed my heart for the longest time and I became oblivious to anything except my own numb. It’s partly why Luke pulled away and began to suffer in his own agony alone.
A few days after I left him, he called me. Upset, tired but he understood why I left. I needed so badly to hear his voice and speak to him, so I cried the whole time he was on the line. It was devastating to hear him and talk properly for the first time in months, after our self-inflicted distance. It felt weird like we were no longer the same people and awkward because we forgot how to talk to one another. It was bittersweet and excruciating, which just highlighted how broken we had become.
He told me I was right to go, and he just didn’t have the courage to tell me how unhappy he was. That he felt guilty for feeling that way and he was sorry about how he handled it. He agreed that we should find out own feet for a while , see how it goes and give one another space to get our heads back on track. Luke the mature man he always was, broke my heart by being smart and saying the right thing. he told me I did the right thing by walking away and I didn’t want him to say those words to me.
I just don’t know how to feel anymore. I need him and I miss him, and it feels like my whole life has spiraled into a dark pit of despair and I will never see sunlight again. I won’t find reason to enjoy a single thing in the world like I once did. Not without him.
I can’t go back though; I can’t afford to pay for the house or bear to stay there without him. My sister told me we should sell it. Luke doesn’t want it either and moved back to his parents’ days after I left him and has no intention of taking what he feels is mine. If I sell it I can pay to go to school and follow my dreams of becoming a chef, If I don’t then I have to find a job to pay the remainder of the small mortgage my papa had left, and live while I am away from there in the hopes of one day going back. I just don’t know what to do. I can rent it out to finish the last couple years left that the bank is owed but I wouldn’t know where to start. That was my family home for 18 years and then my marital home for one. I can’t just toss it aside like it means nothing and never go back. It holds a million memories that I can never get back if I let someone take that house form me.
My heart lies in Alabama and I will go back one day. I don’t see myself ever being happy and settled anywhere else. It holds the key to a part of me, even beyond Luke.
My life is there, my heart and soul are there. Luke is there.
‘What do I do about the house and the land? I can’t just leave it to rot.’ It’s a whimper, a sad little breathless nothing of a sound as I give into utter fatigue. I am waning and giving into reason, my head and heart colliding dramatically but my sister talks sense and I know what she says is true. Tears drying because there is nothing left, and Claire just hugs me tight to squeeze it all away. I know she would if she could. She has always tried to carry my burdens and shield me form pain like a real mother would have.
‘Let Jimmy deal with a letting agent and start getting the house to pay for itself. Plenty people would jump to stay someplace like that, fully furnished and so close to town. We can get good money as a rental and maybe a little extra to pay out fees an such for accommodation at school. Jimmy is willing to get a loan to pay your college tuition using my business as collateral and you can pay us back when you start earning those big bucks. We can help you out.’ Claire has it all worked out nice and neat in her head, like it’s nothing that a good old mug of sweet tea can’t fix, while I am wallowing in self-pity and not even begun to apply for any kind of college. My head has been all tied up in foggy chaos while missing the bones of my husband. I feel like I have severed a limb from the second I walked out on him. I would go back in a heartbeat and try to fix this if I thought we could.
‘I don’t know. I can’t think straight.’
‘You don’t need to. Just trust us to take care of you in the way dad would have wanted. I’m your family and it’s what I want to do for you. You have so much potential and you are only just starting your life.’ Claire sits back, pulling my face to hers so she can look me in the eye, squeezing my cheeks between her palms and scrunching up her face cutely. Her own eyes misted over with empathy at the sight of her heartbroken kid sister, but she is trying as she knows how to make it less traumatic. So much love and pleading in one beautiful face.
My sister was always gorgeous as country girls went. Flawless porcelain skin she kept out of the sun so she wouldn’t age before her time, sky blue eyes and delicate features. A classy dress sense more in keeping with nineteen fifties housewives and a genteel personality, but she knows how to be my rock when I need her. When papa died, she came home and held me together best she could while taking care of all the rushed details so we could put him in the ground. She was broken too but not once did she fall apart the way I did. I guess because she already lived through losing one parent and knew she had the strength to do it all over again. I love my sister dearly and it’s no surprise I ran to her when I felt like everything was crumbling to dust. She’s my mother in so many ways.
‘What about Luke. I have to see him. I need him.’ It’s a wail, a last-ditch childish attempt at clawing onto what my heart wants when all the truths are pointing elsewhere.
‘You love that boy as much as you say you do, then you’ll leave him be to find his own way back to you. Y’all-ways did have him wrapped around your little finger, but you need to be a grown up now and realise you are doing what’s best for you both. Darling, I know it hurts like hell but it’s not the end. It’s just a little gap until you find one another again.’ She smiles, trying to bring me around from bottom of the barrel broken, to light at the end of the tunnel if I squint really hard.
‘Do you think we can fix this again one day?’ It’s a sad but hopeful question, my insides aching for some reassurance that this isn’t it for me. It can’t be. This empty nothing tearing me apart. I can’t exist in this floral chic and pastel room, a million miles from my heart’s desire for the rest of my life, I have to have some hope that one day when we are ready to do this again that I can go back to him. Right now, it’s all I can cling onto to see me through these dark thunder clouds fogging my entire outlook on life.
‘The boy loves you to death. You don’t just get over someone that means that much to you easily. He will be focused on school and probably sat thinking and crying much like you are right now. Trying to piece together a future where you will come back to him. I know him too well.’
I cry some, but with a smile peeking through because I know she’s right. He all but told me as much when we talked that one time. That he hoped we could find a way past this when we were ready, and I should always know where home is waiting for me. We agreed not to talk after that call, to block one another on social media and just take a blackout break while we went our own way and I think that’s what is killing me now. For the first time in my life, Luke Watson isn’t mine anymore and doesn’t have any reason to reach out when I need him the most. I feel like I have lost half of me and I may never recover or be able to function like a human ever again. I am cutting off my own limbs while trying to use them in this crazy world to get by.
I shouldn’t have this kind of dependency on another human being. My papa always told me you don’t rely on another person to make you whole and happy. You have to do that for yourself or you will never be able to be happy no matter how much someone loves you. I think I finally understand that now. Luke and I loved each other more than life but we couldn’t make the other happy in our situation and it wasn’t from trying.
I have to learn to be strong on my own two feet. To be happy in myself and my skin and find what I need to be to function in life before I can go back there and try to offer him something I haven’t got right now. Contentment and purpose. I have to grieve for my losses properly, so they no longer overshadow every sunny day and I need to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life, so I don’t just fall back into being someone’s baby maker and house wife. I have so many more aspirations than that, too like my sister in every way.
She wanted more and she fought to get it. Moving away , starting her own business and marrying the man who chased her for four long years before she agreed to settle down. Jimmy was from Denville too, but his daddy was way out here, and he lived between two divorced parents his whole life. When he left for good it was obvious to everyone that Claire would go with him, even if she kept him at arm’s length until she did. My sister had dreams and no man was going to dictate how she got them. Luckily, she wanted to leave, and this city seems to be just right for her. as right as Jimmy is. They all just work somehow.
‘I want the house back when this is all over. I’ll want to go home when I know what it is I want as a career and I am ready to go back there.’ I answer, voice stronger than it was as the wheels and gears turn in my head and I start working out a plan that may just get me through this awful pain. Face drying slowly now there is a break from the onslaught of tears, and I swallow hard, steadying myself and sniff harder to clear my stuffy nose.
‘That’s do-able, we just lease it on a period basis. Like six months or a year at a time. That way when a lease runs out, we can either renew or you can go home.’
I blink at her, head swirling with what she is saying as it’s all double Dutch to me. I know nothing about renting and the legalities, but her husband is a junior lawyer in his father’s firm and a useful man to know. My sister owns herself a little home goods store in town where she sells beautiful things even though it’s only early days of her start up and caters to expensive clients. They mean it when they say they will see me through school. They have the means financially to help out even if it means taking a loan to cover the expense and I will pay it all back one day, soon as I can. I would be a fool to not accept what it is she wants to do for me. It’s a new start and a chance at happiness.
‘I should take a few days to think and look up colleges for catering huh?’
‘I think you should.’ She coaxes me gently, smoothing back my hair again, as I finally have the strength to sit up by myself and wipe my face completely free of all traces of waterworks. Pain still rattling around inside of me, but that good old stubborn Jessop blood has my mind on other things. That same strong will that got me walking out on Luke two weeks ago.
To fix us, I have to fix me. And I have to let Luke go to become the man he can be. I love him to the moon and back, but we are not working, and we never will if I don’t let him go, trust that we can maybe find our way back. She is right. He loves me, I know this right to the bare bones of my blessed heart. He isn’t one to throw himself at other woman to get over me either, so I have time. I can breathe a while, meander through days without any pressure. He will go to school like I will, we will figure ourselves out and then in time maybe we can sort us out. We don’t have to wait until we graduate, maybe just a few weeks or months of settling into a different life will be enough space to long distance date like we said we would. Time to get over the past year and how broken we became. Time to reconnect and see where we could go. Time to figure it all out.
My heart is no longer heavy as all of this runs through my mind, and the sodden mess of misery I was when Claire came home to find me crumpled on my bed and dying of grief isn’t how I feel now. I am exhausted emotionally and mentally but I am starting to see sense and put logic before everything else.
I need to plan and put things in place. Focus on ways to get my shit together and my life back on track. Find a way back to Luke so that when I do, I will never want or need to ever leave him again. I have to find me and make myself happy before I can try and be happy with him.
School is my priority and figuring out what I want to do to be able to stand on my own two feet. I go back when I am ready to say, ‘this is where I want to be forever’ and see if we can start all over again. I can do this if I keep him in my head and heart with a ‘never say never’ attitude and Luke as my prize when I sort myself good.