This post follows on the heels of Dinner and a Drink.
Caroline took a turn she usually didn’t and walked even faster in an attempt to put some distance between her and the car. Instead of continuing down the street, the car sped around the corner after her and pulled towards the curb. Caroline sprung towards the wall in fright.
“Caroline!” Frank called from the open window. Her heart skipped a beat as relief washed over her. “Get in, it’s late. I’ll give you a ride home.” Caroline hesitated before stepping off the curb and running around to the passenger side. They drove in silence.
“I’m sorry,” Frank finally said, “I’ve decided that I don’t want to talk about the old days anymore. I don’t want to discuss any what if’s or shoulda beens either. It’s gone. It’s done.” His tone was firm, but not cruel. Caroline sat with her arms wrapped around herself against the cold.
“How did you make it stop hurting, Frank?” she whispered. He tried to steal a glance or two at her while still keeping his eyes on the road. He struggled to find an answer.
“I couldn’t say, Caroline.” Frank paused. Caroline eyes remained downcast as she waited. “It doesn’t really stop. You just get numb to it. When I do notice it, it feels like I have a hole in me and even if I shovel fifteen plates of pasta into it I’ll still be hungry. There’s no filling it in,” he answered.
“I have a hole too,” Caroline mumbled, “but it feels more like I’m rotting from the inside out.” The car came to a stop in front of her building. Frank patted her knee in a weak effort to console her.
“You’ve had too much idle time while on the inside to dwell on these things. You need to keep yourself busy now that you’re free.” To his surprise, Caroline slid across the seat and leaned into his side. Frank tensed, he still wasn’t sure he forgave Caroline for her involvement in the botched robbery. She laid her head on his shoulder and her hair brushed his chin. As the scent of lavender reached his nose, he relaxed and rested his arm across her shoulders. She nestled deeper with a sniffle. Frank jostled her.
“Alright that’s enough, Caroline. Pull yourself together and get inside where it’s warm.” Caroline dutifully sat up and stared at the door of her building.
“I’m sorry, Frank. I’m sorry about Margot, about Cylus, about everything,” she whispered. Frank shifted uneasily as he rubbed his chin. He didn’t look at her for awhile. He had tried to put Margot behind him for a long time, but his problem was he never felt anything. A hundred girls, a thousand and he felt nothing. He didn’t care about their ideas or opinions, their likes or dislikes. He couldn’t wait until they left, but then he would be lonely and he’d find another. Now he couldn’t understand why he could recall every word Caroline had said since she showed up at Tino’s with Dauterive. Frank cleared his throat.
“Forget about it, Caroline. I mean it this time. I don’t want to keep rehashing this over and over again. It doesn’t matter whose fault it was. It wasn’t yours. Margot made her choice to listen to Cylus. He wanted to go through with it even after I said no.”
“We need to make him pay for it, Frank,” Caroline said through gritted teeth.
Frank replied with a ‘hmph!’ He didn’t know where Cylus was and he didn’t want to know. He wasn’t interested in seeing him again anyway. Every punishment he had thought of over the years had never been terrible enough. In the end, the scenarios had only left Frank more bereft and he gradually forced himself to stop thinking about revenge.
“Not likely,” he replied. Caroline sighed heavily.
“Hey, no more bringing this shit up, got it?” Frank said firmly. Caroline nodded solemnly. “Now go on. Have a good night, Caroline.” She nodded again, but didn’t reply as she got out of the car. Frank watched her climbed the stairs and disappear inside.
Caroline climbed the stairs to her floor, but every step felt leaden. Her legs were stiff, the muscles screamed for relief. She unlocked her door and entered the dark studio. She leaned on the door after she shut it. She wiped the tears out of her eyes, but they kept welling up. She slid to the floor in the dark as she cried.
It was one of those moments where she felt helpless to do anything. She wanted to right the wrongs, but couldn’t. The past would remain unchanged. There was only moving forward and she was moving at a snail’s pace after walking in place for three years. Caroline kicked off her shoes and crawled over to her bed. Sleep could not come soon enough.
Frank drove across town to an out of the way street. A few people lingered on the street, but they ignored the car as it pulled up outside a three-story building. Frank took the stairs to the upper floors. As he walked inside he was met by warm light.
“Mr. Sicero!” a woman exclaimed as she pulled a cigarette out of her mouth, “We weren’t expecting you.” She glided across the room. “I’m afraid the card game has been underway for awhile. It might cost a bit more for you to buy in.” She leaned in and brushed a kiss near his cheek, careful to not smudge her lipstick.
“I’m afraid I’m not here for cards, Imogene,” he replied.
“Well, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.” She looped her arm with his and led him past a curtain. “What can we do for you?” Several girls lounged around on sofas and chairs. They shook off their bored looks as Imogene glared at them.
“Let me get you a drink.” Imogene led him to the bar as he surveyed the room. She poured out a glass of whiskey from her private reserve. He accepted it and took a sip. He had a nagging thought in the back of his mind and he wasn’t exactly sure what to do about it. That’s how he ended up here. He needed to get his mind off of it. Something that night had caused him to see Caroline differently. She wasn’t just Cylus’s wife anymore. Not to him. It was the first time he had seen her as quite plainly, and simply, a woman.
He looked up from his drink and his gaze met a pair of heavy lidded, black rimmed eyes. He nodded at the girl and taking her cue she slid along the bar.
“Good evening, Mr. Sicero,” she breathed. Frank held up a finger.
“Do me a favor, don’t say another word tonight, got it?”
Mildred nodded, she was used to humoring odd requests and she knew there’d be a good bonus in it for her if she did. It wasn’t long before they headed upstairs.