To see parts I, II, and III of this story, click here, here, and here.

Caroline refused to look back at Adam. She didn’t need to see the pain written across his face, the capable hand clutched to his chest, or his head resting against the stone wall. The slouch of his shoulders or even the blank stare of his eyes. Instead, she shoved her fingers into the pockets of her coat and resolutely placed one foot in front of the other. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Her breaths came in short bursts, and she knew if she didn’t walk faster, it might be that he would witness her falling apart.

She focused on the click of her heels against the still-wet pavement, and wound her way through the ever-increasing fog. A quick glance—back, but not at Adam—let her know that with the lingering mist, he’d likely no longer see her. The corner approached and she took it, not clear where she was headed. As long as she got away from him, from his fantasy, from everything he wanted and everything he represented, she’d be fine, right?

The empty street stretched out before her, and as she passed by the illuminated windows of houses, she fought hard to keep the tears at bay, forcing them back, behind her eyelids, and continued moving. Soon, she was far enough away that he wouldn’t run after her, so Caroline let her mind unfurl and roam. To the unvoiced accusations she held in her head. To the times over the past few months when she wanted to say something, but didn’t. To the last time they’d been together, Adam too busy to even bother spending the night.

He’d gotten up after, letting in a cool breeze as he pulled back the covers, not bothering to push them back over her. She’d watched him through narrowed eyes. Was he fooling around with that girl? Was that why he couldn’t stay with her for the night?

“Why don’t you stay?” she’d asked him, hoping to keep the pleading tone out of her heavy voice. Her hand patted the mattress, a dull thunk in the quiet of the bedroom.

“Too many things to do tonight, babe. I shouldn’t even be here now.”

Caroline hadn’t been sure what to make of those words. Adam had always found time for her before, more than enough time. But things had changed recently and she really needed to confront him.

“Excuse me?” She sat up, keeping the sheet against her skin, clinging to it like a safety blanket.

Adam turned and made his way back to her. “I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.” He reached a hand out and brushed a stray hair away from her face. It’s just that things at work have gotten crazy and . . .”

“And?”

“And nothing. It’s nothing,” he said.

Her mother would not have approved. What kind of game is he playing? she would have said. But Mom wasn’t there to speak to after Adam had left and she wasn’t

here now, either. And as Caroline wound her way through the dark streets, past the happy families putting children to bed, past grandparents watching television, past students studying, and lovers loving, Caroline realized that by walking away, she’d made a choice. She’d told him that she needed time and he did not chase her. The ball was in her court, so to speak, and she could, if she wanted, decide what sort of game they’d be playing.

But in order to play the game, she required more information.

A thought came to Caroline, popped into her head out of nowhere, really, boiled to the top of her brain as she wrapped her arms around her waist, trying to hold in as much warmth as possible. What if she made her way back to the church? Would Adam still be there? And if so, what if she followed him?

Her heart hurt a touch; she wasn’t used to being so deceitful, but she had to know. Why had he proposed and what about that girl?

Her return trip didn’t take long and soon, she fell into the shadows that clung to the sides of the church. The steady drip of rain from the gutter reverberated in the dark as she peered around the edge of the building.

To be continued . . .

 

Image of broken glass heart by Gerhard Litz at Pixabay.com.

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