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Chapter 35

Sometimes it’s check, and then it’s mate.

That’s where it is for me. Checkmate. I made every move I could think of, and now this game is over. Even I know when it’s time to regroup, reset, go back to the beginning, start again.

That’s where I am now, sitting here looking out the window as we’re about to start our takeoff roll. I can’t say it’s either the hardest or the easiest choice I’ve ever had to make. It just was, like it was the only thing to do, and it came to me, just like that, like the decision was already made. Even I know checkmate when I’m in it.

In eighteen hours, plus or minus some and a layover in Dubai or Abu Dhabi or one of those emirate places, I’ll be back in Johannesburg. Back where I was born. And that’s going to be home again for me, at least for awhile. This time Aunt Carol knows I’m coming, she’ll be there at the airport to greet me, happy to see her little Lizzy, so happy to have her back home, and I’ve already started to unravel my story for her. I had to.

She told me some guys, some local guys, had come by the house looking for me a couple months ago, so she knew something was up. Kind couples in Arkansas don’t send thugs to come looking for someone. She told them I wasn’t there and she didn’t know where I was, but they could get lost and if they ever came back again she’d call the cops and have their asses locked up. My aunt’s like that, she doesn’t take shit from anybody, and while she never mentioned it to me, letting me go on with my made-up stories like she didn’t know better, she did.

I’m pretty much done with Sid now, anyway. This little break looks to be turning into something permanent, but I’ll keep talking to him just to know what’s in his crazy head and to keep him from going off the deep end and doing something more terrible than sending guys by my aunt’s house looking for me.

I still haven’t called Chantal and told her all that’s happened since I left her at the Gare de Lyon that late September morning, but there will be time for that later. She means so much to me, but I know I can’t go back to her, not now, and I still don’t know how to explain that to her, or even to myself. If anyone can understand it, though, it’s Chantal.

Now I’ll live at Aunt Carol’s until I figure something else out, roomies with Michelle until one of us makes her move and moves out, and I’m sure there will be plenty of restaurants and cafes in Joburg that will jump at the chance to get an actual Paris-trained pastry chef. So I’ll put what I’ve learned to practical use and be able to earn a living, too.

I have my freedom fund, of course, even bigger now than when I left Paris, so there’s that, and I won’t be destitute, no matter what. I’m carrying it with me, all those euros, on the airplane in my little pack. I know I’m breaking the laws of all the countries I’m coming from and going to and passing through, but I look like a little teenage waif and not some currency smuggler, so I’m not worried I’ll get caught. I’ve learned a few things along the way these past four years, at least I can say that, so this is more than easy peasy.

Looking out the window at the wet runway I think of all that might lie ahead, but I can’t forget Mario, either. He still hasn’t been found and it’s beginning to look like he never will be. Aurelia is coming back to Italy in a day or two, empty-handed. A very big part of my heart is lying there on that beach in Phuket, and I’m sure no one’s seen it or reported it to any consulate. But I know it’s there.

Mario came into my life almost as in a dream, and being with him those months, the happiest months of my life, can only be a dream, and he went out of it the same way, as in a dream. Something more of a nightmare, for sure, as it happened, but I want to remember him as the sweet, caring, loving man he was, so for me he’ll always be a good dream.

I’m pushed back in the seat as the plane accelerates down the runway and in a few minutes, looking down at Milan before it disappears in the clouds, I’m ready for the new game to begin.

It’s time for the rest of my life.

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