Authors: Carrie Cox
It was funny how I thought of the Harding Mansion as home. It was pretty much the complete opposite of my childhood home, a run down two-bed house on the edge of town that I shared with my mother and Kate before my mother died.
The wave of grief that engulfed me seemed to come out of nowhere. My mother had been dead a long time, but I’d started thinking about her more recently after my recovery. It was probably because at the time, I hadn’t allowed myself to grieve. I’d tried to wipe it out by getting high as I spiraled into self-destruction.
I set my drink down on a small side table. I shouldn’t drink anymore. The alcohol was making me melancholy.
I decided to get some air. I could see the large French windows, lined with heavy drapes that opened up onto the balcony and I squeezed past a couple who were deeply involved in their flirting and barely noticed me.
I opened one of the French doors and I stepped out onto the balcony. I took a deep breath. The air was cold and smelled of the sea.
Closing the French door gently behind me, I took a proper look at the balcony. It seemed to wrap around the entire house. It was huge.
My eyes became accustomed to the darkness, and I saw there was a faint glow of light coming from multiple French doors that lined the entire balcony. There were at least eight of them by my count.
I wandered down to the far end of the balcony, and then stopped in the corner, leaning back against the rough stone and staring out at the beautiful gardens and the moonlit sea beyond.
I looked upwards, gazing at the dark blue sky. It was a clear night and the stars were twinkling. I smiled. No matter how badly I screwed up they would always be there, reassuringly shining down on me. I tried working out a few of the constellations, but I couldn’t do it. Just when I thought I had pinpointed a couple that I thought were part of the bear, everything seemed to move and I lost track of the others. There were just so many tonight.
I was not sure how long I was out there, probably only ten or fifteen minutes. But I shivered as the cold stone started to seep its way through the thin fabric of my dress. I rubbed the goose bumps on my arms. I wasn’t really dressed for a cool night like this.
Reluctantly I headed back along the balcony, and then I faltered, was it the sixth French door that I came out of? Or was it the seventh?
I stood there for a moment debating; then shrugged. I didn’t suppose it really mattered. I’d still get inside, unless it was locked. I reached out and pulled down on the metal handle and was glad when it opened freely. I pushed back the drapes and stepped inside, only to freeze when I saw what was in front of me.
Jack’s blonde ex-girlfriend, dressed in an evening gown with a slit right up to her panty line, was in front of me, sitting on a sofa opposite a short dark-haired man.
In between them, on a small table, was a pile of white powder.
I stared down at the little pile.
My throat seemed to close up, making it hard to breathe. I wrenched my eyes away from the white powder, looking back at Jack’s ex-girlfriend, Joanna. There was a faint trace of white powder around her nostrils and she held a rolled up banknote in one hand.
She wiped her nose with the back of her hand then gave a starry-eyed giggle.
“Don’t just stand there. Surely you’re not that innocent,” she said and gestured to the table. “Do you want some?”
She couldn’t have known … there’s no possible way she could have known … but I broke out into a cold sweat.
I’d been so strong. I’d thought I was unbreakable. I thought I would never go back… but to see it in front of me like this… just taunting me.
I took a shaky breath and shook my head, taking a step backwards.
Then the door opened, and I saw Roger enter the room followed by Lauren.
“Oh there you are. I’ve been looking …”
Lauren stopped talking abruptly. I saw the full range of emotions pass across her face. First, she’d smiled happily at me, then her eyes drifted down to Joanna and the pile of drugs in front of her.
Then her eyes swung back to me, full of hurt.
I shook my head.
No. No. No. I wanted to scream. I wanted to tell Lauren I didn’t touch the stuff. I wanted to shake her and insist she trust me.
But I did none of those things.
Instead I ran.
I pushed past Roger and darted out of the door, heading straight towards the front door. I didn’t stop as I collided with a woman smoking a cigarette just outside. My heels clattered down the stone steps and then crunched into the gravel.
I ran and ran until I met the road. I kicked off my shoes to make it easier, and grabbing them in one hand, I ran back towards the Harding house.
Tears were streaking down my face, and my lungs were burning, desperate for oxygen. The muscles in my thighs were killing me, but I liked it. I wanted to feel the pain.
I was not sure how long I’d been running for, feeling the tarmac slap against my feet, when I heard a car not far away. And before I knew what I was doing, I was climbing over the scratchy, dried-out bushes on the side of the road and ducking beneath a large, prickly bush.
The car was going slowly, but I didn’t look up as it passed. I rested my head on my knees and I clasped my legs tightly to me. I knew it had to be Lauren looking for me.
I should have stepped out and let her see me. I knew she’d be worried, but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t talk to her right now.
I felt so incredibly betrayed. I knew that didn’t make sense. Lauren hadn’t betrayed me, but I’d seen the look in her eyes. I knew she didn’t trust me and that hurt so much.
After the car passed, I gave it a couple of minutes before getting to my feet and staggering back onto the road. The prickly bushes grabbed at my dress and scratched my arms, but I barely felt it.
I continued heading towards the house, but I didn’t run now. I felt empty, devoid of energy.
When I finally got to the house, the lights were still off. That was good. I wanted to sneak in the house without anyone seeing me. But I knew if I went to my bedroom, Lauren would be there, waiting for an explanation.
I couldn’t talk to her yet. I needed to get things straight in my head.
I felt guilty. I was sure that even if Lauren hadn’t appeared when she did, I wouldn’t have touched the drugs. But I felt so confused and screwed up. The truth was: I’d been tempted. But that was normal, wasn’t it? It didn’t mean I would have taken anything.
I found my way around the back of the house, wincing as the security lights came on.
I was heading for Jack’s quarters. I knew he’d be asleep by now, and it was the last place Lauren would look for me. My hand was shaking as it reached out to the French doors to Jack’s living room. My breath was shaky and fast.
To my relief the door opened, and quietly, I slipped inside.
I didn’t even make it to the sofa; I just leaned against the wall and slid down to collapse on the floor.
I don’t sleep well. I haven’t since the accident.
I was lying in bed using my usual trick of trying to go around a race circuit in my memory. Sometimes it helped; sometimes it didn’t, but at least it kept my mind off feeling sorry for myself.
That’s what I was doing when I heard the noise. I blinked into the darkness and strained my ears, trying to listen, but I couldn’t hear anything else. It was normally so quiet around here. The house is set well back from the bustle of Monte Carlo, and as we live on the end of the cliff road, no one travels up this far unless they are coming to visit us.
There had been talk just recently of a spate of burglaries targeting Monaco’s so-called billionaire row. Alexander had been concerned enough to increase security. I hadn’t paid much attention. I’d been preoccupied with my little pity party just lately.
I sighed. It was no good. I’d have to go and investigate.
I grabbed my sweatpants, quickly pulling them on and then reached for one of the crutches that was propped up beside my bedside cabinet. I winced as the muscles in my right leg tightened painfully.
I moved as quietly as possible through my bedroom, around my bed and out into the living area.
And that’s when I saw her…
My first thought was that this had to be a dream. Maybe I was really asleep, and my subconscious had conjured her image to torment me.
But the cold handle of the crutch and the pain in my legs told me it must be real.
If it was a dream, I’d be back to my old healthy self. I wouldn’t be stuck in this broken shell of a body.
“Kristina?” I said.
If she wasn’t a dream, what the hell was she doing sitting on the floor in the living room at this time of night?
Her head snapped up. Her eyes were wide and wild, and I knew something was wrong – something serious.
As I moved closer, I could see she’d been crying. Tears had streaked her face and smudged her makeup, and the sight of her sitting there made me feel so helpless. I felt something twist inside my chest.
I held out my hand to help her to her feet, but she shook her head and crossed her arms over her chest.
“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to wake you up. I just didn’t want to go back to my room.”
“Something’s wrong,” I said, winning the award for stating the obvious. “Tell me.”
She shook her head as if telling me what was wrong was the worst idea she’d ever heard.
“I can’t,” she said,
“Nothing can be that bad.”
She stared up at me with a look in her eyes that made me want to pull her close and never let her go.
“I can’t tell you,” she said. “You’ll think I’m awful.”
I shook my head. “Impossible. Nothing could be that bad.”
I reached down for her, which wasn’t easy with one hand still holding my crutch. But this time she didn’t resist and allowed me to pull her to her feet and lead her to the sofa.
When I sat beside her, she grabbed a cushion and clutched it to her stomach.
She looked terrified. Was I really that scary? I knew I’d given her a tough time when she first started, but I thought we’d got past that. I thought by now she would know she could trust me.
I wanted to reassure her, but I didn’t. Sometimes words weren’t enough. So I gave her time. Time to wrestle with whatever demons were haunting her. I couldn’t force her to trust me, and I figured if I waited and didn’t hassle her, there was a better chance she would open up to me.
When she started talking, it was almost as if she couldn’t stop.
“You think that you’re broken, Jack, but you’re not.”
“I’m the one who’s broken.” She put a hand to her chest like her heart was breaking, and it nearly killed me.
I let go of the crutch and eased myself closer to her on the sofa. I put both my hands on either side of her face and gently turned her head so she was looking at me.
“You’re not broken.”
She shook her head. “You don’t know…You don’t know what I did or what I was like before… in the past.”
I stared at her, waiting for her to continue. I wanted her to open up and tell me. I wanted to know this dark secret she’d been hiding from me.
I was holding my breath.
“I was an addict,” she said her voice was calm and even, but she screwed up her face like the words tasted bitter on her tongue. “For years, I took drugs, pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I’d like to say I went off the rails when my mother died, at least that would be a reason, but truthfully it was even before that. I was hooked. I wrecked my life, I hurt my sister and most of all… the thing I’m most ashamed of is that I put my mother through hell, and she died before seeing me turn my life around.”
Her voice cracked at the end of the sentence and I pulled her to me. Her cheek rested against my chest and I could feel the wetness of her tears.
“So you see,” she said and sniffed, “that’s the kind of person I am. I’m so ashamed of what I did. I’m trying to put it all behind me, but I can’t. My past won’t let me go.”
I lowered my head and pressed my lips against her forehead, and then I said, “Stop worrying about the past, Kristina; it’s over.
That isn’t who you are. Right now, all I see is a sweet, caring, beautiful woman sitting in front of me. You need to let go of all that shit and live in the now. There is nothing to be gained from beating yourself up over things that happened in the past. You can’t change it, Kristina. Let go of the past and live in the present. You have so much ahead of you. It could be amazing.”