The Long Road Home(3)

By: H.D. Thomson

Unconsciously, she brushed the material of her jeans across her right thigh. She looked down at the cane in her hand, the only visible sign of how her life had changed since last seeing John three years ago.

Laura, her only sister, expected Clarisse to show up in San Diego a week before her wedding. Clarisse’s responsibilities as maid of honor were to assist with the final preparations, and of course, play hostess to her parents, aunts and uncles, and other relatives arriving for the wedding. But most importantly, she needed to be there because Laura had asked for her help and support. And Clarisse wasn’t about to ignore such a request. Laura was family, her only sister. It was the least Clarisse could do after Laura stood by and helped her cope during those nightmarish weeks following the plane crash.

From the living room, a man’s voice penetrated the wooden door Clarisse leaned against. John. She couldn’t make out the words, but she’d know that husky baritone anywhere. Memories of that voice, urgent with need and longing, whispering in the dead of night across crisp cotton sheets, sent a shiver stampeding across the flesh at the nape of her neck.

His voice rose suddenly, indistinguishable but laden with anger. Jennifer, her tone equally angry, retorted something that made John swear. Clarisse cringed, catching herself pressing an ear to the door. Obviously, Jennifer just told him who he was taking to California. If Clarisse’s pulse rate weren’t so chaotic or her mind so dilapidated, she could almost find the situation funny. Maybe next time Jennifer would hesitate before meddling.

Suddenly, the door opened. Stumbling back, she just missed being hit by inches. Jennifer slipped into the room and closed the door behind her.

“Did he leave?” Clarisse asked.

“No, he’s still out there—no doubt pacing the floor and wanting to wring my neck. I don’t think he likes me anymore.”

“I wonder why! It sounded like you were yelling at him from the top of your lungs.”

Jennifer’s lips twisted into a wry grimace. “Yes, well, I did manage to convince him to take you to California. Though, I think I should’ve let him walk out of here.”

The frown puckering Jennifer’s brow rattled Clarisse’s nerves even further. “Why?”

“I’m sorry, Clarisse. When I heard he was going to San Diego I thought it a perfect opportunity for the two of you to get together. I’d always thought you were meant for each other. We were all shocked when everyone heard you’d broken up—”

“Get to the point. What are you trying to tell me?” Clarisse didn’t like the anxiety in her friend’s hazel eyes.

“His girlfriend’s in the car.” When Clarisse didn’t immediately answer, Jennifer frowned. “Didn’t you hear? He’s got his girlfriend with him. He never mentioned someone else coming along—never mind a woman. You’ve got to believe me. I would never have set it up if I’d known.”

“I heard.” Clarisse shoved down her panic and gave Jennifer a wobbly smile. She was beyond shock. “I really have no option now, do I? I need to get to my sister’s wedding on the fourteenth.”

She’d been a model once. The occupation had required some form of acting. Today and for the next several days, she would have to use that ability to prove she was over him. And maybe, if she pretended long enough, she would convince herself that he didn’t have the power to hurt her.

With shaking fingers, Clarisse feathered her hair back from her face. Then she tossed the cane on Jennifer’s bed. “But I’ll be damned if he’ll see me as an invalid.”

“Are you crazy!” Jennifer’s hand came up and rested against the wall between them, barring Clarisse’s path to the door. “You can’t go out there without your cane.”

“Just watch me.” She waited, meeting Jennifer’s determined gaze.

Jennifer backed down first. She pulled away from the wall and muttered, “God, you can be so stubborn.”

“Don’t worry. I’m not that crazy. Believe it or not, I can live without the cane. It’s just that I’ve become so used to it that I’m having a hard time putting it aside.” Clarisse gave her a cocky smile, though inside, she felt far from confident. Her knee still hadn’t completely healed from this last surgery, and acting as if nothing was wrong for the next couple of days might drastically delay her recovery.