By the time you knew love, The Rent-A-CD shop had become a branch of state government, demolished, like the rest of your city, in a summer that stretched into nearly a decade of detours.
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No, she thought. She didn’t want to hear a single repulsively sweet word that would slip out of his lips and make her smile like it did every time. She yearned to hold a grudge, see the self satisfaction drain out of his eyes as he realized it was different this time. For he was the reason she had to plan each word she spoke, the reason she was wearing long sleeves on a warm night. But each time he murmured those three words, she was reminded of the seven years they shared, and the bliss of the calm that followed every storm. It was all put into perspective when he said, “I love you.” Hate was just an empty threat.
Suddenly his steps came to an abrupt halt, his hand anchoring her within his grasp. Annoyed, she freed her hand from his tight clasp and turned to him. She expected to hear him groan, “I’m tired, can we go back home?” but all expectations were shattered into shards of reality, and she saw him on his knee. He looked up at her, a smile across his face with outstretched arms holding her destiny in a small box.
“I love you, Cara, and I...”
Her eyes widened as they caught the shine of a diamond, and she was momentarily blinded by an uncontrollable glee. Her telling eyes met his, and she recalled how as a child her mother had told her that one’s eyes were the temple of their truth. As she stared into his eyes she could see they didn’t match his smile. There was some imbalance, some deceit, and it sent waves of fear into her heart. She looked away, and focused on the box and what he didn’t say. The darkness faded as she watched the diamond glisten and absorb the hues of the setting sun. The light that radiated from the ring reminded her of their good times, when they were just two kids burning with desire as they flew higher. Just like fireworks.
“Will you marry me?”
In that moment, colors of passion and euphoria flooded her world. The cacophony of raw happiness flushed out all denial, and once again she smiled at the promise that would soon spill from her lips.
“Yes,” she said dropping to her knees in front of him. His smile grew, and their lips crashed together with the force of the waves beside them.
The walk home had been quiet yet sweet, full of whispered promises. By the time they arrived back at their cramped apartment the sky was dark, the stars piercing. She opened the door to their little balcony and looked out as he poured them a glass of wine. Her heart instinctively jumped at the sound of the liquid being poured, but as she peered at him she could see the calmness in his face. She wouldn’t have to worry tonight.
“I have no idea where I want to have the wedding yet,” she said with excitement.
“Mhm.” He picked up both glasses and strode to where she stood in the doorway, handing her one.
“And we’ll have to make a guest list pretty soon. Oh! Who would be my maid of honor? Maybe Lynn from high school? We haven’t talked in ages though...” Cara trailed off, her mind running with scenarios.
“Yeah, maybe. I was kind of hoping we could have a private thing, babe,” he said soft but sternly.
She looked at him, half hoping he could see the disappointment in her eyes. These moments often left a faint sadness in her heart. But over time she came to understand he didn’t care, so she appreciated the highs when they came, and braced for the inevitable lows.
“I don’t know how my parents will feel about that, but it’s certainly an option,” she said, looking down with some forced enthusiasm. She took as single sip of wine, then placed the glass on the railing. Sadness settled in her heart as she stared at the darkness of the sky, then turned to him and kissed his cheek.
“This was a great day, Nathan. I’m heading to bed. Love you,” she said and she kissed him once more as he took a big sip of his wine.
“Love you too.”
Her dreams were portals to the future. Sometimes they depicted fragments of her past she yearned to forget. Sometimes they got so loud she would take medicine hoping to drown them out.
They were at one of those high school parties, and he was drunk again. He was calling her from across the room and she tried her best to ignore him and hold back her tears. When the party ended she had to drag his heavy, stumbling body into the backseat of her car. He threw up every time. When she got to his house and tried to help him out of the car he slurred things like, “Get your hands off me.” She always ended up with at least one bruise getting him home.
A week later she arrived home to find him passed out, surrounded by empty cans, a bottle in hand. They had just moved into the apartment and he was jobless, but had promised to start searching that morning. She was infuriated that he never lived up to his words, and saddened at the sight of him shriveling in the grasp of addiction. She wanted to hate him, but more she wanted to help him. Tears streamed down her tired face at the sight of him passed out, and she picked up the cans scattered on the floor. He awoke to the sound of her cleaning up his mess, drunk and mad. He left her with eight bruises that night.
She took him to rehab. She wanted to see the life in his eyes again, but he left after a day, muttering promises of sobriety. She wanted to believe him, yet kept her eyes open. A week later she found a pack of beer in the back of their closet open.
She confronted him sober, hoping for a change. And she got one, but it was in the wrong direction. He left her with three bruises and a broken heart, and she became aware that it wasn’t the alcohol that made him the way he was.
She realized that their future was nothing but bleak. She saw him blackout drunk at their honeymoon, herself with a black eye and a big belly. She saw him screaming at her as she cradled their baby, saw her son trying to “protect Mommy from Daddy.” She saw holes in their living room wall, broken bones and broken hearts, and last of all she saw...
Herself, standing behind a girl sitting at a vanity. She looked into the dusty mirror and was stunned by the broken beauty of her daughter in a white lace dress, her youthful face covered by a veil. With weak hands she lifted the delicate lace and saw the broken eyes and dark bruises she too bore. She picked up the concealer and started to paint her daughters face, to cover and conceal the pain like she did everyday.
She awoke in a feverish state, surprised by the tears that wet her cheeks. Her lungs were on fire, and she couldn’t get a deep enough breath to douse it. She looked over to Nathan and was disgusted. They were sharing the same life, but had very different fates. The reason he gave her the ring was to tighten the ropes. She was his slave. The anger she had once tried to quell pumped hot blood through her veins, and she embraced the freedom she had secretly yearned. With shaky, but certain hands, Cara shook Nathan awake. He groaned and slowly opened his tired eyes. She could see them clear in the darkness, and realized that despite their depth, despite all the shades she saw in them, never once did she see his love for her.
“What do you want?” Nathan grumbling, half awake.
“Nathan, honey. I’m leaving you,” she said loudly, so that she was certain he heard. As his body sprung up in the bed she got up and made her way to the door. She could hear his footsteps following her, and his yelling voice, but she wasn’t scared anymore. She confidently strode to a destination unknown, and took a deep breath when his footsteps and desperate voice had faded. She truly smiled, and threw her arms up to the black sky. It was illuminated by her own fireworks coming to life.