CHAPTER TWENTY - WAVES
They say grief comes in waves and I know that it's true. The waves come hard and fast at first, barely allowing you to take a breath before you're pulled back into the darkness. Slowly they get further apart, they still crush you under their mass but for the briefest period you can breathe and you can feel the sun on your face, only to be swallowed under again. I don't know if they ever really get smaller or less intense, or if you just learn to ride them, learn to keep your head above water as they continue to crush your soul. Life was never the same without Natalie, everything was darker, heavier. We all felt the large scars on our hearts and I doubt that they would ever truly fade.
I tried to keep my promise in the year that followed. Tried to smile through the pain of our loss. I finished university and it was bittersweet. Natalie should have been beside me as I walked the stage and got my certificate. I tried to tell myself that it's what she would have wanted, and while I know that is true, my heart was heavy. The tears never stopped, coming at random times, but I slowly got better at controlling them.
We had all changed, all of us permanently scarred, but no one more than Luca. The morning before Natalie died was the last time I saw him smile, the last time I saw light and love in his eyes that have now gone cold. He rarely speaks and he never laughs. We'd held each other and cried together in the beginning, until one day he stopped crying, instead becoming a shadow of the man he once was. I have no idea how to pull him back from his grief, I'm not sure it's possible. Their love was true, it was pure and once in a lifetime. How do you go on when you lose that?
It's late February and I walk inside the house from the pool. It's my day off and I'm enjoying the last days of summer before the autumn weather starts. The house is quiet, Rafael, Tony, Luca and Alessandro working and Mario and Angelo at school, it's only Angelina in the kitchen and myself. I go upstairs and shower, changing into a summer dress and crashing on my bed with a book.
I must have dozed off as I'm awaken from shouting and loud footsteps running up the stairs.
“Nicola!” Rafael’s voice travels up the stairs. I hear the panic in his voice and jump to my feet. He rushes through the door, his eyes filled with fear and my stomach churns as my mind fills with scary thoughts.
“What's wrong?” I ask, dreading the answer that I know is coming.
“Your father. He's here.” Rafael says. I gasp and can feel my body start shaking. He found me. “We have to get you somewhere safe.” The pain in his voice stabs my heart.
Angelina hurries in with empty suitcases and a backpack. She quickly runs to my wardrobe and starts packing my clothes, I see the tears running down her face and swallow the lump in my throat.
“What happened?” I ask, knowing that if a man like Rafael is scared, then it must be bad. Rafael's eyes flicker with pain and anger.
“He turned up in Griffith a couple of days ago asking about you, I had a couple of my men follow him, hoping that he would lead them back to the cult.” He looks away and I grab his hand, squeezing it, urging him to go on, needing to know what father did. “He must have noticed them, he got them last night…” he turns his eyes away from mine.
“He... he killed them?” I sob out the words. Rafael slowly nods.
“But... not before torturing them first.” He says quietly, letting me know the gravity of the situation. I sink back down on my bed. 2 men died by his hand. He tortured them to get information on me. This is my fault. Rafael's large hands rest on my shoulders. “This isn't your fault. This is on him. Now please, we need to keep you safe.” He says, as if reading my thoughts. I see the worry in his eyes and nod, standing up and grabbing the backpack, I put my bead necklace from Tommy, a book from Judy and a photo of me and Natalie into the bag. I randomly grab other items as Rafael leaves the room.
I hear Angelina sob as we pack as much as we can into the bags, my heart breaking that I will once again have to leave the people I love. A barrage of footsteps on the stairs alert me to my brothers as they storm into the room. Angelo and Mario practically tackle me when they see me, they don't bother to try and hide their tears and I hold them close, kissing both their foreheads before stepping away and into Alessandro's embrace. He lets me go as Tony waits behind me, wrapping me in his arms I let out a sob.
“We will end this and bring you home. I promise.” He says with conviction. I look up at him and nod, unable to form words. “You're our family, and we take care of our own.” His words bring more tears and he pulls me into him again before stepping away and allowing Luca to take his place.
“When it's safe, we will contact you, I promise.” Luca says, his voice void of emotion. I nod and look into his eyes, they are rife with pain and heartache.
“Please live Luca, please try and find something positive, anything positive in your day.” I beg him, wanting nothing more than to see the light in his eyes again. He simply nods and I can tell he's trying to hold back tears. I wrap my arms around him. “I love you bro.”
“I love you sis.” He whispers into my hair. We pull apart as Rafael returns to the room with envelopes in his hands. He opens one of the now packed suitcases and places a large thick envelope and a smaller one in between my clothes before closing it again. He shoves a third envelope into his back pocket.
“Are you ready?” he asks me. I shake my head.
“No... but, let’s go anyway.” I say. He simply nods as the boys grab my bags and we rush downstairs. I stay in the house as they chuck the luggage in the boot. One last round of hugs I'm ushered into the backseat of the car, Angelina in the passenger seat and Rafael driving.
“Lay down and cover yourself with the blanket, I'll tell you when it's safe to sit up.” Rafael orders. I do as he says, laying in the backseat, hidden by a blanket as Rafael drives away from the only place I've ever known as home.
On the outskirts of Griffith, I sit up to see Griffith airport pass us by. I thought that Rafael would put me on a plane, ensuring that I got as far away as possible. We make our way down the Sturt highway, the sun high in the sky but my world feels dark. Everything happened so fast, saying goodbye to my brothers, the only real brothers I've ever known in such a rush, the long drive allows me to truly understand what's happening. My father tortured 2 men. He killed them. He tortured them because he knew that they knew where I was. He always knew when you didn't speak the truth, is this the length he went to when he caught you in a lie in this world? It seems just knowing me is dangerous. That thought sends fear through me. What happened to Judy, Bryan and Brandon after I left? I never told them everything, not even the name Genevieve, were they ok? I know Rafael spoke to them the day after I ran, he said that they were ok... is that still the case? And what about the Valentino's? Will he leave them alone?
Completely lost in thought I didn't even notice we had made the two hour drive to Wagga Wagga. Rafael pulls into Wagga Wagga airport. I guess, I was right, I am flying. Just not from Griffith. He parks the car and cuts the engine.
“Where am I going?” I ask quietly. Rafael looks at me through the rear vision mirror.
“Sydney first... then I don't know where...” he says, his voice laced with sorrow.
“You don't know?” I ask. Fear rises in my body. I'm going to be alone, the only real family I've ever known won't even know where I am.
“It's safer that way. In case of the worst case scenario, which this is, I set up a few different lives for you. I put everything into envelopes and locked them away, that way I wouldn't know where you are going when I had to grab them.” He says. I simply nod as tears well in my eyes. Rafael pulls an envelope out of his back pocket and hands it to me. “This is your ID and ticket to Sydney. Once you get there you need to destroy this ID and all the luggage tags.” I nod in understanding.
“In your check in luggage is another small envelope, it will have another ID, credit card and instructions on where to fly to. Make sure you leave Sydney airport, grab a cab somewhere then return and book your flight. Don't use the same airline.” He says. I nod again, wiping the tears away with the back of my hand. “When you get to your final destination, destroy the second ID, credit card... everything associated with it. There's a large envelope in your suitcase, it will have everything you need.” A sob escapes my lips as I nod again, completely overwhelmed with the reality of my life.
Rafael gets out of the car and pulls my suitcases and backpack out of the boot. I grab my ticket and ID out of the envelope and jump out of the car. Rafael drops my backpack and pulls me into a hug. He kisses my forehead.
“No matter what your name is and where you are in the world, you will always be our daughter.” He says, holding me tight.
“I love you papa.” I whisper, not caring about the tears that cover my face.
“We will end this sweet girl. And then I will come find you, I promise.” He declares. “But if he does show up wherever you go, you run, as far and as fast as you can, then you call us.” He says. I nod my head in understanding. I pull back from the hug and look into Rafael's eyes, laden with unshed tears.
“Thank you papa... for everything.” I whisper. He cups my cheek and gives me a sad smile.
“Anything for you sweet girl.” He drops his hand and I step towards Angelina whose sobbing uncontrollably. She wraps me in a tight hug, squeezing me so hard I can barely breathe.
“I love you so much sweetheart.” She sobs.
“I love you too, mama.” I croak through my tears.
“We will find a way to talk to you, when it's safe.” She tells me. I nod, wanting so very much to believe her. She pulls away and kisses my cheeks.
“You better go, check in closes soon.” Rafael says. I nod and pull them both in for one last hug. Gathering all the strength I can muster, I pull away from them, grab my bags and walk towards the departures terminal.
The flight to Sydney on REX airlines is short, just over an hour. I stand at the carousel, waiting for my luggage and drag it off as it slides past me. I head straight to the toilets with my luggage, heading straight to a stall and closing the door behind me. It's cramped with my two suitcases and backpack, but I tear off the luggage tags and unzip my suitcase, fishing out the small envelope, I place it between my teeth as I rezip my bag.
I grab the small pair of scissors from the front of my suitcase and cut up my old ID and place all evidence of that name and flight into the sanitary bin next to the toilets. I grab out my new ID and credit card, memorizing the pin and location I'm traveling to that Rafael scribbled under the lip of the envelope and stuff them in my pockets. Exiting the bathroom, I walk straight to the taxi rank, not speaking to anyone, not making eye contact.
The taxi driver places my luggage in the boot and I slide into the car. Not knowing where to go I say the first place I can think of.
“Bondi junction please.” I say. The driver nods and drives away from the airport. I tell the driver to pull up anywhere near Bondi beach, which he does, I pay the fare and grab my bags, heading down to the pristine sands, the ocean calling me. I don't allow myself to cry, I try not to think about what I've left behind, what I'm running from and what's in store for me next. Instead I head to the public bathrooms, quickly change my outfit and redo my hair and makeup. I still look like me, but maybe I won't look as suspicious walking back into Sydney airport.
I wander along the Main Street, tugging my suitcases along. I must look a sight, but Sydney is so busy that no one even bats an eyelid. In Griffith they'd notice. I'd look out of place.
I find a small travel agency and decide to see if I can book a flight from there. Successful there, I now have three hours to kill before having to head back to the airport. I decide to stow my luggage in the lockers at the train station and take in the beach.
It's busy, the hot February sun bringing everyone to the water, but I find a spot to sit and stare out at the ocean. My thoughts go to Tommy, all those years ago who told me about the ocean. To Bryan, who talked the entire trip down the ocean road, telling me all about our beautiful country. To Judy, who took the time to teach me, not only English, math and science, but geography, history and other general knowledge. To Brandon and our smoking sessions looking up at the stars. To Antonio and Maria, who took a freezing cold and soaking wet girl in after she'd stolen an orange and cared for her. To Rafael, Angelina, Tony, Luca, Alessandro, Mario and Angelo, who became my first real family, who loved me and protected me as one of their own. To Marco who taught me a valuable lesson. And lastly, to Natalie, who loved so big, so hard, who saw the positive in everything and always had a smile on her beautiful face.
In less than 22 years, I've lived so many lives, and I find myself now wondering what my next life has to offer.
The time flies by and I find myself back in Sydney airport, ready to board my next Flight. They call our flight and I walk towards the Virgin airline desk, show them my ticket and walk out towards the plane. I watch out the window as the plane takes off into the air above Sydney, flying over the harbour, as the plane levels out I find myself drifting into a light slumber. I'm woken by the pilot announcing our descent into Perth airport and I realized that I'd slept the entire 5 hour flight.
I look out the window down onto my new home as the plane lands perfectly on the runway. When the plane stops we all get off and I wait again at baggage claim for my luggage. It takes a while, but it comes slowly out on the conveyer belt and I grab it, before making my way to the bathrooms. Again I destroy the ID, credit card and luggage tags and pull out the large envelope. It's heavier than I thought it would be.
Opening it up and peaking inside, I see a stack of papers, a driver’s licence, Medicare card, a mobile phone and a set of keys. I fish out the driver’s license and cover it with the palm of my hand. I take a deep breath and close my eyes, saying a final goodbye to Nicola Valentino. As I release my breath, I open my eyes and uncover my new ID
My Western Australia driver’s license, with my new name.
Nicole Angela Johnson.
So there you have it. End of book 2. Did you figure out how it relates to testing the limits?
The third book, breaking the curse, will be out soon and will start where this one left off.
As always, please review and leave comments with any feedback, positive and negative both welcome
S L Walders
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