💑EP THIRTY TWO💑
My mother was ecstatic about the turnout of my exhibition.My pieces were sold out.
“You were sold for fifty grand!” she told me excitedly.
“Your portrait. The crying lady, as I like to call it, sold forfifty thousand bucks,” she said. “There were three bidders.But the woman who bought it meant business. Upped theprice to fifty grand to eliminate competition. The rest of yourpieces sold for at least ten grand. You’re going to be famousone day!”
I smiled. “That’s great. But I’ll get the details of the salelater, Mom. I’m gonna be late for my flight.”
I decided to go to Manhattan again. Eric had agreed tocome with me. I could tell he was worried about me, too.
My mother stared at me wearily. But she said, “Goodluck.”
I met Eric at the airport. “Are you worried about me, orare you here just to make sure I’m not going to make a foolof myself?”
“That too,” he said, grinning, taking my bags, andleading me to the checkin counters.
Since Travis didn’t want to see me in his office, I decidedto try our…his apartment.
I just got out of the cab with Eric behind me when I sawTravis heading toward the entrance of his building.
“Travis!” I called to him. My heart was pounding in mychest. I think I wasn’t even breathing.
He didn’t seem to hear me. He turned to the beautifulblonde beside him, put a hand on her back and guided her inside the building. Karl seemed to hear me, though. Helooked at me, and then he smiled apologetically. He gaveme a slight nod, and he went inside to follow Travis.I didn’t know what I was going to feel. Angry, sad,humiliated, heartbroken…all those emotions inside seemedto be overpowering each other, trying to see which onewould break me down first.
I felt the overpowering desire to settle this…once and forall. I thought he was just caving in. Trying to deal with ourproblems on his own. And then when he was ready, hewould come to see me.
But who was that woman? If she was a businessassociate, then what the hell was she doing inside ourapartment? That man was still my husband! If he wanted toscrew other women, then he had to make sure he was manenough to face me…and finally end this! He couldn’t keeprunning away from me and keep me hanging in the balance.
“Do you have business coming here, ma’am?” he askedme in a polite voice.
“Travis Cross,” I replied.
“What’s your name, ma’am?” he asked.
He took his notes and flipped through the pages.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. I don’t see your name here.”
“What list is that?”
“The list of visitors allowed access to Mr. Cross’sapartment without prior appointment,” he replied. “NoMontgomery.”
“Must be an old list. I used to live here.”
“What about Cross? Brittany Cross.”
He shook his head. “No. His visitor list is… well, empty.”
He replied. “Are you a sibling or a relative?”
I shook my head. I was on the verge of tears now, but Itried to keep it together. “Thanks anyway,” I said to him.
“You can give him a call now, and he can speak to us tolet you in,” the guy offered, obviously feeling a little sorryfor me.
I shook my head. “Not necessary,” I said. “Thank you.”
“Ma’am, I’m really sorry. But we have strict policies inthis building. Only tenants and visitors authorized by themare allowed inside. Actually, Mr. Cross does not allowanybody to come up without prior notice.”
“I used to be a tenant here. Actually, I used to be hiswife.”
The guy was taken aback. “I’m really sorry. I will call mymanager. Mr. Ferguson could fix this. I’m new here. It’s thefirst time I’ve seen you. You can wait at the lobby while wesort it out.”
I shook my head. Sure, Mr. Ferguson knew me. But it waspretty obvious Travis didn’t want me in the apartment.
“Thank you. You’re very good at your job. But it’s notnecessary anymore. Goodbye.”
I walked down the street blindly. Eric was walking besideme quietly. Tears kept rolling down my cheeks. I didn’t knowwhere I was going. I didn’t know what I was feeling. I justwanted to get away from Travis’s building.We must have walked ten blocks before Eric finally
pulled my hand.
“Stop!” he commanded. And when I stared at him, Ithought I saw a trace of the Eric that I used to love. The onewho was strong enough to be my man before he admitted tome he was something else. He hugged me to him. I cried onhis shoulder.
I could not believe that Travis, who couldn’t even maketime to see me or answer my calls, had had the time to seeanother woman and bring her to our apartment! If he hadn’ttold me that he loved me, I would have understood. He wasa player before I married him. But everything hadchanged…he was no longer that man. He had committedhimself to me. And I was still his wife. He had still promisedto take care of me…to make me happy. Why was he the
cause of all my misery now?
I got that he was really angry and hurt…but had hereally just erased me from his memory and simply not caredabout how I felt anymore? Not even as a friend? Andcouldn’t he just be honest enough to face me? To end ourmarriage himself? Was he waiting for me to do it? He didn’twant to talk to me, and he also didn’t want to be the one to
For months, I’d waited for him. Karl surely must havementioned how many times I’d come to his office. I waspretty sure Karl had told him. That’s why he’d avoided hisoffice whenever I was there. I’d called him more than ahundred times since I decided to fix things between us. Hemade no effort to answer or to call back. He didn’t even remember me on my birthday. I’d called him. Because I washoping he remembered and he could at least talk to me onthat day. But he didn’t pick up before he finally turned offhis phone.
Now, I saw that he was bringing another woman into ourapartment.
But could I really blame him? After all I’d said to him?After I’d called him a monster? After I’d showed him I had nofaith or trust in him? After I’d lost his baby? After I’d becomeuseless as a woman? After he knew perfectly well that Icouldn’t give him the heir that he desperately wanted andneeded anymore?
Realization crept through me like an assassin seeing theopportune moment for the kill. I’d hurt Travis. I’d called him words that seemed unforgivable. I didn’t trust him, whenthat was all he had asked from me. He’d taken all his masksoff and made himself vulnerable to me, thinking that I wouldbelieve in him more than anything else, but I failed him. Imade him choose between saving my life and risking our
baby’s. He lost his heir because my body was…sick. Andnow…I couldn’t even give him the one thing that couldmake him complete…and whole. The one thing that couldsave him…his own family, his own child.
How could he want me? He had no future with me. He’dspent more than half of his life doing what my brother askedhim to do. He gave up his own happiness and his own lifebecause his life was tied to mine. And I realized now…Icouldn’t do that to him anymore. I loved him too much.
Maybe they were right. Sometimes, you can’t fixrelationships. And the best option that you have…is to letgo. Set the other person free, and let him find the happinessthat he deserves.
Suddenly, my heart felt lighter and heavier at the sametime. I was okay now. For months, I lived without theshadow of Travis. And I was fine. I was able to stand up onmy own. My first art exhibition was successful. It raked incash that would sustain me until my next show. It alsogenerated a lot of publicity and profit for my mother’sgallery.
My health was restored. I had finished all my therapies,although the doctors still offered no guarantees ofconception. My chances of conceiving still ranged from slimto none. Maybe that was the way it was supposed to be.
Maybe the guy who was really meant for me was one whoonly needed a wife. Not a child.Maybe I would find someone…maybe not. But whatevermy fate became, I would not tie it to Travis’s. It was time hefound his own and lived his life the way he wanted it. Notbecause of any promise he made to me or my brother. Wewere done manipulating his life and his choices now. This time…he should be free to choose on his own, and not even
Tom would hold it against him, wherever he was.
I looked up at Eric. “I’m going home, Eric.”
He nodded. “You can go home or to Antarctica for all Icare! You can go wherever you want, honey. Just get out ofhere!” he said, using the old term of endearment he used touse with me.
I told Eric that I would be fine traveling without him. Infact, I preferred to be alone. I didn’t go back to Connecticut.Instead, I decided to take the next flight to South Carolina.One last time, I needed some clarity. I needed to let goof Travis…not physically. But in my heart. I needed to acceptthat it was over. I should be the one to let him go.
I realized I hadn’t slept in almost twenty-four hours. Icouldn’t. My heart was so heavy. Funny, because it hadbroken into pieces. I barely had time to put my bags in myold room. I decided to take a walk.
The weather was bad and I had forgotten to bring ajacket. I walked the old streets I used to walk when I wasyounger. The streets I walked with Travis and Tom when Iwas barely a teenager…back when my family was wholeand complete.
I caught a chill as the cold wind blew. The leaves andbranches swayed in protest around me. There was a stormcoming. It was only midday, and yet the clouds in the skywere heavy, making the whole surroundings very dark. As ifit were twilight.
I loved Travis. This was probably the most difficultbreakup that I would ever have to get through. It wasespecially hard because it was with him. Before, he wasalways there to help me get up…to hold me through thenight as I cried my heart out. But now, I felt completely
alone and broken.
I wanted to fix things between us. If we would end, Ididn’t want us to end like this. But now, I realized maybethere was no hope. Even if we fixed things now, there was the fact that I’d lost our baby, and that I may not be able togive him an heir anymore. A slim chance was almostequivalent to not having a chance at all. And maybe Travis
knew that, too. Maybe it was better that we set each otherfree. After all, he’d told me that I should find a man whowouldn’t care for a child…even if I did.
I didn’t know where my feet were taking me. I walkedthe streets without a destination in mind. I was just lost inmy own thoughts, oblivious of the fact that I felt very cold,and I hadn’t slept properly in a while. I was unaware of thefatigue that was starting to envelop me.
I walked for a whole hour and then I realized where Iwas. Tombstones lay before me. I realized my feet had takenme to where my brother was.
I walked the rows of tombstones before I finally reachedthe end where my brother rested.I stared at his name, carved on the stone.
Thomas Antoine Montgomery… Forever young…
Tears immediately rolled down my cheeks. I rememberedstaying here after the funeral. Long after everybody wasgone. I was only a little girl, and I cried like a baby as Istared at my older brother’s tombstone, as if it were anightmare I couldn’t wake up from.
It was raining that day, too. But I didn’t care that I wasalone and that I would get w€t. I kept crying, silently callingmy brother’s name.
I remembered the arm that had wrapped around myshoulders then.
I looked up and saw Travis staring down at me, his eyesw€t with tears, too, but he was trying his best to be strong.
He hugged me to him.
“Ssshhh…” he’d said to me. “Everything’s going to beokay. I promise I will take care of you for as long as I live,”he said. Then he turned toward Tom’s grave. “I will protecther with my life, bro. You don’t have to worry. She will neverbe alone for as long as I am alive.”
I felt him kiss the top of my head. And that was the firsttime after Tom died that I’d actually felt a ray of hope.
And now, sixteen years later, I stood in front of Tom,crying the same way I’d cried that day, but this time, I wascompletely alone.
“Tom…” I whispered. “I hope you can hear me now,” Isobbed. “I want to let you know that I’m mad at you!”I couldn’t stop sobbing like a little girl.
“Why did you have to leave me?” I asked. “You’re sounfair…when you left, Mom and Dad chose to mourn in theirown worlds…I was left behind! I lost our whole family theday you left…and then…you asked Travis to take care of me.You…threw us together, Tom. For a long while, all we hadwas each other. Didn’t you know that we’re only human?That we could end up falling in love with each other? Was
that part of your plan? Was that what you wanted? Were youhappy when I married Travis? Were you happy when I fellmadly in love with him? If you were, then your heart mustbe breaking, too…because mine has shattered into a millionpieces…I lost my best friend, my guardian angel, myprotector…the one guy who could make me complete…”
There was lightning followed by a loud bellow of thunder.I almost got scared. It was dark in the graveyard now. But Iwas too busy crying to be really afraid. I figured I couldn’t bein much worse shape than I was in now.
The rain poured, and it poured hard. I looked up at theheavens and thought, Thomas must be crying for me rightnow. As if he were answering my questions. His heart wasbroken, too.
“I need to release him from the things you made himpromise before you died. I need to release him from anyobligation, any tie that you bound him with,” I said inbetween tears. “He needs to live his own life, without tyinghis own fate to mine, Tom. We haven’t been fair to him. I’mnot going to run after him anymore. I’m not going to chasehim. I will set him free of the vows he made to me when we got married. I knew that he made those promises because itwas his obligation to do so. But it’s not his obligation to keepme safe and happy anymore. I will set him free. And I’m notgoing to allow him to hurt me again, or to turn me way. He’sfree of me from now on.”
The words I spoke hurt me physically. And now, morethan ever, I wished there was someone here who would holdme and tell me that everything was going to be okay.
I don’t know how long I stood there under the rain. I wassoaked and cold. I could feel the numbing of my fingersslowly. I was shivering, but still I refused to turn back home,to take cover. Tears were streaming down my cheeks,mixing with the drops of heavy rain.
Then suddenly, the world started spinning. If I’d cared, Iwould have panicked. I knew that fatigue had won this time.And then everything started to turn dark…darker than italready was…
I was walking back home after the rain. I felt warm already.My clothes were dry. I don’t know why, but I felt verycomfortable.
Suddenly, I realized that I wasn’t alone. Somebody waswalking beside me. He was just as tall as I was. He was notmuscular. He was wearing our school jacket, his strawberry-blond hair almost covering his eyes. He looked at me, and Irecognized those familiar gray eyes, which were so muchlike mine. He smiled at me.
Tears filled my eyes. It’d been so long since I last sawhim.
“Tom…” I whispered.
He smiled at me. “Everything is going to be okay,Brianne.”
At that instant, I thought I’d died. Right there in thegraveyard. I must have fainted there, and nobody found me.
Or I must have hit my head.
“Are you taking me with you?” I asked Tom. Andsomehow I realized that wouldn’t be so bad.
He shook his head.
“I love you, Brianne,” he said to me. “I promise you, youwill be happy for the rest of your life.”
And he started walking faster than me. I tried to keep upwith him, but somehow his strides were always longer thanmine and I couldn’t keep up.
“Tom, wait for me!”
He turned toward me again and shook his head. “I’malways waiting. But you’re going to live a long, happy life,Brianne.”
“No! I can’t be happy! You saw what happened to me! Iwill never be happy anymore!”
He just gave me a sly smile. Then he shook his head. “Ipromise you, you will be. Wake up now, Brianne. And sendmy love to Travis, too.”
“Tom!” I called. But somehow, I was frozen in place. Icouldn’t move my feet. I watched Thomas walk farther andfarther away from me.
“No, Tom! Don’t leave me!”
He turned one last time and gave me a grin and asalute, and then he faded into the light.
“Tom!” I screamed.
I blinked, and then suddenly everything around mechanged. I was no longer in the street. I felt comfortablywarm, and I was lying down on something soft, with myhead resting on something firm, warm and…familiar.
I started to get up, but strong arms were wrappedaround me, keeping me still, preventing me from pullingaway.
“Sssshhh…” I heard a soft, soothing voice whisperagainst my ear.