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Authors: H.M. Ward,Stacey Mosteller

Shadows of the Past (4 page)

BOOK: Shadows of the Past
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For a moment, the two little girls seem pleased. They smile and clap for the dog as it bounds across the little field. As the puppy gets closer to the tree line, they call it back, but it doesn’t stop.

They turn back and look at me. “Yeah, he’s not coming back. You better go after him.”

The two girls take off running, calling after their pet. They catch up with him just before he darts into the trees. Their smiles linger in my mind. I don’t know if they are sisters or friends, but I can’t watch anymore.

It's a little breezy this morning, but not truly cold, and thankfully not raining. The closer I come to the carousel, to the kids laughing and playing, enjoying the ride, the more my heart hurts.
 

Stop it Kayla, I scold myself. Fixating won’t change anything.

I fish my earbuds from my pocket and start a playlist designed to make thinking impossible. With the hood of my jacket pulled over my head, I pick up the pace and walk through the park. I toss my empty cup in a waste bin and head over to a bridge. I stare into space, with one hand absentmindedly playing with the precious locket I haven't taken off in four years.
 

I watch the surface of the water in the little pond. Ripples cut through the stillness as a swan lands, disturbing the glassy surface.
 

I'm so spaced out that I don’t notice anything else. That’s when something huge hits the back of my legs. I shriek as my knees buckle and I fall on my butt. My phone falls out of my pocket and bounces off the pavement before falling into the water below. I scream and cover my mouth, staring after it. “No, oh God, no.”
 

My throat tightens as I realize what this means. The pictures... Photographs I can never replace, that aren’t backed up anywhere. Oh, dear God! It feels like my lungs are being ripped from my body. Tears spring from my eyes. I’m so raw, so incredibly emotionally shredded that I can’t speak. I clutch the boards of the bridge, digging my nails in, and swallow the scream that’s building inside of me.

The moment the photographer came into the hospital room was horrible. Nothing had gone as expected. One moment I had been a proud mommy of two. The next moment they were gone. The chaplain spoke, but the only thing that registered was the photographer. She asked me to hold my girls the way I’d dreamed of just hours before while she took pictures of their tiny toes and lifeless fingers. I didn’t understand then how much those pictures would help me deal with their loss later.

Now they're gone.

"I'm so sorry," he says with a proper English accent, the kind that screams money despite his battered jeans, running shoes, and oversized University of Cambridge pullover. With a bitchy comeback on my lips, I meet his arctic blue eyes and feel a different kind of shock. My face falls as my jaw drops.
 

I know this guy.
 

Shame floods my face and mingles with shock. “You.”
 

It's my failed one-night-stand.

Hot Guy blinks like he doesn’t recognize me. He glances at the beast of a dog that plowed into me. He’s firmly gripping the dog by the collar, trying to get a leash on him. When it finally clicks onto the collar, the mammoth black dog cocks his head to the side, and he stares at me his tongue lolling out.
 

“Sorry about this brute. He’s not usually like this.”
 

“Yeah.” My voice is barely there. I finally push up off the bridge and stare down at the dark water.
 

Hot Guy does a double-take half a second later. “You? How are you here?”

“Nice.” Emotions play across his face swiftly. I can't tell how he's feeling, but I don’t care. “You didn’t have to send your attack dog to kill my phone.” My voice tightens and sounds shaky. I swat at the tears in my eyes.

I always thought that if I kept the phone safe everything would be fine. Even if it broke, I could replace the phone. I’d have the pictures as long as I had the SIM card in that phone. Now it’s at the bottom of the pond. I can’t even see it.

"I'll replace it, of course. It's the least I can do considering my dog knocked you over." Looking down at the dog, he points at him, "Bad boy, Barkley." I swear to God, the damn dog grins, completely unrepentant. "I'm Oliver," he says and holds out his hand, clearly expecting me to reciprocate by giving my name, but I can’t speak.

"No, thanks." I can’t stay here. I’m ready to burst into a snotty sobfest.

"Look," he pauses once more in an obvious attempt to get my name and sighing when I stay silent. "My dog knocked you over and ruined your phone. It is my responsibility to replace it." His face is the very definition of remorse, his eyes silently begging me to let him make it right.

Clenching my hands into fists at my sides, I dig my nails into my palms. Focus on the pain. Don’t cry. I back away, knowing my reaction is going to be wrong, but I can’t hold it in anymore.

"It's just a phone. Get over yourself, Oliver." Turning, I leave him and his demon dog standing on the bridge. I shove my hands into my pockets and hunch my shoulders against the cold, ready to walk away.
 

“Come now, there’s more to it than that. I’m not as dense as I look.”
 

I glance over at him and the dog, then back to the water.
 

“Apparently you are. Excuse me.” I turn away, but he calls after me.
 

“American Girl, last night wasn’t what you thought.”

I keep walking and offer him the bird. He chases after me.
 

“That was crass.”

“Go away.” I try to swallow, but the lump in my throat is getting bigger.

“I will. And I’m terribly sorry. For everything. I’ll make it up to you.” He sounds sincere, but I can’t stop walking. If I do, I’ll fall down and sob hysterically on the grass. I can’t do that here. I can’t let him see me. I can’t let him know.

I reply over my shoulder, “Please don’t.” He goes to say something, but I stop. Rounding on him, Oliver nearly walks into me. Holding a finger in his face, I warn, “I mean it. Turn around and leave me alone. You have no clue what you just did, and there’s no way I’m going to stand here and explain it—not to you, not to anyone—ever!” My heart is racing and I’m ready to breathe fire. I can’t keep myself in check any longer.

Oliver’s lips part as if he were going to speak, but no words come out. Instead, he closes his mouth and nods sorrowfully. It feels like I sucker punched him in the junk. The way his gaze falls to the ground makes me feel worse. Then, without another word, he turns away. Oliver doesn’t look back or try to make amends. He and his ginormous dog disappear down a different path.
 

I watch them disappear before turning on my heel and taking off at a full run. Blinking rapidly, I push off the pavement harder, trying to outrun the pain that’s tearing through me.
 

This can’t be happening.

I’m close to the entrance when I slow down and walk the last stretch. I suck in air, trying to catch my breath. Seeking comfort, I reach up to feel the silver locket that's normally around my neck, but it's gone. No. No, no, no. I look down and grab at my throat trying to find it, but the necklace isn’t there. It’s not fallen into my shirt or on the ground. It’s just gone.

A sob escapes me as I fall to my knees on the cold, damp grass. I can't stop the tears from falling. That locket holds my only tangible proof my babies existed. It contained a lock of each baby's hair, keeping them together. I’ve worn that locket every day for four years. It was always next to my heart and now it’s gone.

I have nothing. A sob works its way up my throat to strangle me. A woman pushing a stroller stops next to me.
 

“Are you well? Should I call for help?”

I jump up and smile at her through wet eyelashes. “No, thank you. I’m fine.” I glance behind her, down the path.

She nods slowly. “Did you lose something?”

“Yeah, I dropped a necklace. It meant a lot to me and I just realized it was gone.”

“Retrace your steps. Maybe it’s still on the path. I saw you run by only a few moments ago. I’m sure you can find it.” Her words are kind. She offers a smile and then walks on with her sleeping baby.

I take her advice and double back to the bridge. It’s not on the path. Icy panic rushes through my veins as I get closer and closer to the spot where my phone took a bath. I look everywhere, stopping every few feet to examine the grass and ask passers-by if they saw it, but no one has. When I get to the bridge, I stop. I hope beyond hope it’s at the coffee shop, but I know where it is. A chill covers my skin as I look down at the murky water. The current has probably sucked it further upstream. I’ll never find it even if I jump in and dig through the muck. It’s down there, somewhere, lost forever.

CHAPTER 6

My past officially died, and the rest of my heart withered away with it. Unable to explain, I avoid Emily and hardly speak at work. I walk around in a daze with my stomach in knots. Dark circles form under my eyes as dusk stretches into dawn and sleep eludes me.

I keep working, trying to push through, but I feel the inevitable telltale signs that I’m going to snap. Emotional turmoil and lack of sleep combine to make a nasty cocktail. The worst part is, I did this to myself. If I’d only backed up the pictures... But I was so afraid someone else would see. I’ve not been online since I ran, for fear they’ll find me.
 

I’m going to keep running. If I stop now, I won’t be able to bear it.

Since the restaurant is slow tonight, I’m sitting in one of the leather armchairs by the window, staring into space. I’ve already wrapped napkins and wiped down all the tables twice. When I started to wander in circles, Reggie told me to take a break. Since no one is here yet, I agreed.

This old hotel houses a swank restaurant and since it’s a weekday, we aren’t very busy. The lack of movement paralyzes me. I should have cleaned the tables again.

"Are you all right, Kayla?" Reggie plops down in the other chair beside me and stretches his arms across the back of my seat. I've been avoiding him since Emily told him about my failed attempt at a hookup, but now that things are slow, and there are only a few customers, avoidance is no longer an option.

Lifting one shoulder in a shrug, I answer, "I'm fine. Just looking at the sky, wondering if it will rain."
 

“Really? You’re thinking about rain?” I don’t answer him, and keep my gaze on the windows. He leans forward and clasps his hands together. “If you want to talk, I’m here. Emily has been trying to find out what has you so upset. We’re worried, Kayla.”

“You don’t need to be—I’ll get through this. I always have.”

“But you don’t have to get through this alone. Normally I can respect your desire to be alone, but not if it means your undoing. Promise me you’ll talk to someone.” He reaches out and brushes my hand with his.

I glance over at him. Reggie has dark hair, tanned skin, and the most caring pair of brown eyes I’ve ever seen. The man wears his heart on his sleeve. I admire him for that. I offer a quick smile. “Thank you, Reggie.”

“No problem.” He stands and looks down at me. “I tried to call your cell earlier and no one answered.”

“Yeah, that’s because a dog jumped me in the park. He beat the crap out of me and stole my phone. He’s probably made a bunch of calls to China with his big hairy paws.” When people strike too close to home, I ramble about ridiculous things. Although the idea of ginormous dog making calls on a cell phone does offer a funny visual. I almost laugh.

“I can never tell if you’re serious.”

“Call Emily or the flat if you need me for work.”

“What if I need you for another reason?” Reggie watches me for a second. “I heard a new restaurant is opening nearby. You know what that means.”

“Free food. Deal. I’m all over that. Thank God the owner of this place is crazy. I think he’s paid me more in fancy food than anything else. So, when do we go?”

“I’m thinking later this week. I’ll call Emily and let you know.” Reggie pats my arm sympathetically before he sighs, "Customers. Got to go." He acts put out, but he loves all the attention he gets as the restaurant's maître d'. Female hotel guests come in looking for a special cocktail or to try a classic English dish and usually stay to flirt. Reggie is easy on the eyes. I'm not sure which is his type since he goes after all of them.

I'm startled when a voice behind me says, "Hello, American Girl." I jump, pressing a hand against my chest and spin to see the person responsible for my missing phone. This time, he's all posh Londoner, clad in a slate gray suit tailored to fit his muscular frame and accented by a pale purple tie. His hair is once again perfectly styled, and tonight his smile reaches his eyes.

"Uh..." I'm speechless. I honestly never expected to see him again, not after the way I spoke to him in the gardens. Embarrassment rushes to my cheeks and my face flames red. Again.

Clearly amused by my shell-shocked look, his smile widens.
 

"What are you doing here?" I ask dumbly, wishing I could take back the question immediately. Act unaffected, Kayla. Who cares that he saw you half naked? My eyes sweep over him casually, taking in the fit of that suit. Damn, he looks hot! The impulse to grab his tie and pull rushes through me. Yeah, slutty Kayla isn’t helping. I shove her into the closet in the back of my mind.
 

"I told you I'd see you," he says, shrugging. "I owe you a new phone." He holds up a bag I didn't notice.

Clearing my throat, I ask, "How'd you find me? I thought you said you weren’t a stalker. This is kinda stalker-like, Oliver." I don’t know why I’m teasing him. I should be pissed, but I can't continue to blame him. I lost the locket. I was the idiot who never backed up the pictures. I kept thinking to back them up I should post them on Facebook or save them to the cloud—which would lead the people I’m trying to stay away from straight to me. It never dawned on me to put the pictures on a USB flash drive or something not connected to the Internet. Now it’s too late.

BOOK: Shadows of the Past
7.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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