By: K. Langston

“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”

—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

I can’t breathe.

I can’t see anything but red.

Crimson eats up the hardwood floor beneath his head, slowly inching toward my feet. A scream shreds the hollow of my throat, sharp and thick. The foreign sound penetrating the eerie silence as the unbearable pain in my chest threatens to buckle my knees. My hands and body tremble uncontrollably as I find the courage to look at him.

His eyes are slightly open, but they are hauntingly still, lifeless.


My heart plummets to my stomach. The urge to vomit is strong, but throwing up would require air, and I still haven’t found any yet.

My eyes travel to the gun, gleaming from his right hand, taunting me with grave finality.

I fall to the floor next to him. A sob racks my body, sadness and darkness staking their final claim on my soul.


His name is a desperate plea. A painful prayer I know will never be answered.

He’s gone.


And it’s all my fault.

My heart shatters into a million tiny pieces, never to be whole again.


“Order up!”

Retrieving the plates from the window, I exhale a ragged sigh. I’m tired as hell and my feet are killing me. I shouldn’t be so tired at twenty-six, but I feel like my body could give out at any second. The double shift is beginning to take its toll. This entire week has been exhausting but I still have a few more hours to go.

Then I can fall apart.

“Club for you, and a BLT on wheat for you, Carl. Can I get you boys anything else?” I force a smile, brushing my hands down the front of my apron before clasping them sweetly in front of me.

“Think we’re good here, Sylvie. Looks great.” Sheriff Griffin tosses me the same sympathetic smile he always does before sinking his teeth into the thick sandwich.

I take quick inventory of my other tables, noting customers’ drinks are all full, mouths moving. No one in need of anything at the moment. So I head for the ladies’ room in desperate need of a break.

I’ve been working at the Blue and White Café for nearly two years now. The tips are good and they let me take on as many shifts as I want. It’s not the most glamorous job in the world but it makes ends meet and keeps a roof over our heads.

It’s a quaint little spot located right across the railroad tracks on the edge of town. A popular stop for tourists who travel to Grandeur, Georgia to visit the famous Dawson’s Brewery just up the road.

Grandeur is one of those places you read about in books or hear about in songs. Where everybody knows everybody and people don’t even bother locking their doors at night, tucked away safely in the heart of the south, miles from nowhere and open space as far as the eye can see.

I grew up in this town.

I fell in love in this town.

Now, I hate this town.

It holds too many memories, harbors too much pain. I hate the way the people here look at me. I hate the pity and sympathy I see in their eyes. They all look at me like I’m some poor, pitiful woman who’s barely hanging on to what’s left of her life.

Which is mostly true.

If not for Caroline, I probably would have given up by now. Because Lord knows the guilt is enough to eat me alive every day.

But I press on.

I have to.

For her.

Despite the looks and the hopeless feeling that weighs heavy on my heart. Because regardless of how bad I’m hurting, my little girl needs me.

The light in the bathroom is bright, revealing the dark shadows coloring the skin beneath my eyes. Even good makeup can’t conceal what I’m trying to hide, the pain that is locked away with the mountain of regret. My worst enemy is my memory, reminding me every single day of the chances I didn’t take and the decisions I waited too long to make.

The knot in my throat is tight, and I just can’t seem to swallow past it today.

God, will I ever be able to go a day without crying?

Turning away from the mirror I press my back to the wall, trying to stifle a runaway sob. But they rack my body in relentless waves of grief and despair. I ride it out, until I feel a little bit of the weight ease from my shoulders.