Popping up in my seat, I followed after him. Even at a fast walk, he was thundering through the exit before I was out of the dining room. I’m sure people were watching the two of us, but all I paid attention to was the wide back thundering out into the street.
As soon as I shoved through the door, I ran down the steps and into the street. “Jude!” I hollered at him, but he didn’t hear me. He was pacing beside the bed of his truck, his hands on his h*ps and his eyes somewhere else completely.
Then, clutching his head, he kicked the wheel of his truck before driving his fist into the rusted bed. His other fist followed, until both were moving so fast I couldn’t tell which one was responsible for each metallic note exploding in the air.
“Jude!” I ran across the street towards him, almost slipping on the fresh snow. “Jude, stop!” I said, braking to a stop beside him and grabbing one of his arms. He was so intent upon beating the shit out of his truck I had to wrap both arms around one of his before I got his attention.
“Jude,” I said, taking in a breath, “what are you doing?”
His gaze turned from the dents he’d hammered into his truck to my eyes. They didn’t eclipse from black to light like they normally did when I interrupted one of his bouts of rage, and having him look at me with those dark, tortured eyes made a chill crawl up my spine.
“I need you to leave me alone right now, Luce,” he said, biting around every word.
“Like hell I’m leaving you alone,” I said, not letting go of his arm.
“Damn it, Lucy!” he shouted, driving his other fist into the truck bed. “I’m not safe to be around right now.”
“You wouldn’t hurt me,” I said.
“I never would intentionally, but I hurt things, Luce. I hurt people,” he said, looking away from me. “I sure as shit don’t mean to, but it’s in the damn DNA. The only way I can protect you from me is if I recognize the times it’s not safe to be around me, tell you, and you actually listen.” His tone had turned from angry to pleading—almost begging. He was begging me to turn around and leave him alone when these kinds of moments were when we needed each other most.
“I need to sort out my shit right now. I need to do this alone,” he said, fitting his hand over my cheek, but it was careful, like he was afraid the contact might break me. “Tell your parents I’m sorry.”
I lifted my hand and folded it over his on my cheek, trying to press it harder against me. It was met with a warm wetness. Holding my hand out in front of my face, I grabbed his. “You’re bleeding.”
“Barely,” he said, pulling his hand away.
“Barely bleeding is a paper cut,” I said, staring at his other hand also dripping blood. “You’re creating pools of blood in the snow. You need stitches.”
Opening the driver’s side door, I grabbed the keys he left underneath the seat. I didn’t know where the nearest ER was, but we were in New York. One couldn’t be far off. “Get in,” I instructed. “I’m taking you to get those gashes stitched up.”
“No, you’re not,” Jude said, grabbing my waist and hoisting me out of the truck. “You’re going to go back inside and enjoy the day with your parents.”
“You need to get those looked at,” I said, waving my hands at his.
“Leave it alone, Luce,” he warned, letting me go and hopping into his truck.
“Stop acting like an a**hole and think!” I said, kicking his door as he closed it.
Rolling down the window, he sighed. He wouldn’t look at me. “I’m working on it,” he said. “Will your parents give you a ride back to your place?”
“If I said no, would you stay?”
He didn’t pause. “No,” he said, starting the truck up. “But I would make sure a cab was here to drive you home safely.”
“Then yeah, they’ll drive me home.”
“Good,” he said, nodding once. “I’ll call you later. After I get my head back on straight.”
I laughed some of my frustration out. “If I had to wait for you to get your head on straight, I’d be waiting forever.”
His face lined as his eyes closed. “I think I’m starting to see that too, Luce.”
Then, without the shortest look my way, he eased out of the parking space, pausing and waiting for me to move.
Relenting, I took a few steps back.
“Bye,” he whispered, heading down the road, the truck’s wheels drawing lines in the snow. My eyes filled with tears, but I wouldn’t let them fall because letting them fall was like admitting there was something worth crying over. Something worth crying over wasn’t a place I wanted to visit when it came to Jude and me. So I didn’t cry. I forced the tears to disappear. I focused on the blood dotted snow at my feet, shoving away the thoughts that snuck up on me, whispering it was a metaphor for what was to come.
I did go back into the restaurant, ignoring the looks of curiosity and sneers of disapproval; I even managed to make small talk with my parents and eat a bite of everything that was served. I went through the motions, put on the It’s all good face, but it wasn’t. Every second that ticked by drilled another hole in my heart. I wanted to be with him, to comfort whatever needed comforting, to be assured we were going to be all right. That we’d weather this storm.
After lunch, I showed my parents around New York. We saw the sights, exchanged some more small talk, and the ache in my heart went deeper.
“Honey, are you sure you don’t want to stay with us at the hotel tonight?” Mom asked, turning in her seat as Dad drove through Juilliard’s campus. “We’ve got an early flight tomorrow, but you could sleep in, order room service, and we could arrange to have a cab drive you back.”
“Thanks, but I’ve got a load of homework to get cracking on and I need to rehearse for the winter recital,” I said, looking out the window, trying to drone out “Blackbird” playing through the speakers. Even in a rental, dad had to have the Beatles blaring.
“You’ve got homework over Thanksgiving break?” Dad piped up, glancing in the rearview mirror.
“Tell me about it,” I said, sounding as numb as I felt. “They’re slave drivers here.”
Dad made a clucking sound with his tongue, shaking his head. “This it, Lucy in the sky?” Dad asked, slowing in front of the dark dorm and peering up at it.
“Home sweet home,” I said, going for the handle of the full-sized rental they’d splurged on. In fact, they’d splurged on the whole trip, the whole day. And a robot would have been just as good of company.
Stepping out of the car, I glanced over at the Mazda. The snow had died off, but a good couple of inches covered it.
“Are you going to be all right, Lucy?” Mom asked, stepping out and glancing over the car at me.
“She’s going to be great,” Dad answered for me, stepping out of the car and giving me a private smile.
I nodded because that’s all the lie I was capable of right now.
“Thanks for coming all this way,” I said, giving my dad a hug. “And sorry things went so wonky.”
“Life is wonky, my Lucy in the sky,” he said, patting my cheek. “It’s to be expected.”
For someone who had been declared mentally unstable over five years ago, my father was a very wise man.
Mom came around the car and wrapped me into her arms. “Everything will be fine, sweetheart,” she said into my ear. “Men just need time to sort these things out. They don’t have the need to talk the issue into a pulp like we do.”
And for someone who’d been an ice queen for the past five years, she could be surprisingly warm. “Thanks, Mom,” I replied. “That sounds like good advice.”
“I’m the expert,” she said, smiling in front of me. “I’ve lived it for the past five years,” she mouthed, glancing back at Dad.
“Have a safe flight,” I said, giving them each a quick peck on the cheek before heading up the walkway. “See you at Christmas.”
“Love you, sweetheart,” Mom said as they watched me head towards my dorm.
They obviously weren’t going to take their eyes off of me until I was locked safely inside. To parents whose children didn’t grow up in New York City, it was a place where murder happened around every corner and a criminal was lurking in every shadow. I was pretty sure my mom had been clutching a canister of mace when she stepped out of the car.
Sliding my key card in front of the register, I pushed the door open. Before stepping inside, I waved at them. They waved back, smiling at me, Mom tucked under Dad’s arm, looking like the parents they’d been when I was in grade school.
At least one thing in my life was looking up.
The dorm hall was quiet. Silent. Most everyone was back home celebrating with their families, while the few that remained behind were likely out celebrating late into the night with their friends.
Shoving open the stairwell door, I walked down the empty hall, contemplating my next move. I was fighting every instinct to jump into the Mazda and not stop until I’d found Jude. I knew I should fight to stay put and do as he’d requested. Sit tight, give him some space, and he’d call me when whatever fit of rage that had risen had calmed.
But how long until he called? Did he mean tonight? Tomorrow? Next week?
Thumping my head into my door as I unlocked it, I toyed with the idea of flipping a coin. Thankfully, I came to the conclusion that was a disaster waiting to happen. I wasn’t going to let fate make my decisions for me. That was my job. I’d rather be the one to blame for making the wrong decision than fate getting all the credit when I made a right one.
Switching the light on, I stood in the doorway, staring at the bed where Jude’s suitcase and the pink rose he’d given me hours earlier rested. The rose was already starting to wilt.
Staring at that flower, the pink petals curling at the ends as the life bled out of it, helped me make my decision. Turning off the light, I locked the door back up and ran down the hall. I wasn’t going to let what we had die due to neglect.
I was down the stairs and out the door less than a few minutes after my parents had pulled away. I had yet to purchase one of those snow scraper thingeys native New Yorkers seemed to have at least two of in the trunks of their cars on any given day of the year, so I used my forearm to scrape the snow off the windows before tossing myself inside.
I blasted the heaters as soon as I started it up and punched the gas a little too hard given the winter driving conditions. The car fishtailed a pattern in the snow before I got it under control. I hadn’t made it out of the parking lot and I was already losing control.
Taking a slow breath, I pressed down carefully on the gas and the car behaved.
By the time I’d left Long Island, I was feeling just comfortable enough with driving in the snow to be dangerous, but the roads were quiet and would only get quieter by the time I made it to Syracuse. It would be well past two a.m., maybe even later with the roads, before I pulled into Jude’s gravel driveway.
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