Two weeks have passed since Lucas left. Coraleth had thought that his leaving would hurt her most, but the horrible damage that ordeal had on her relationship with her father far exceeded it. They still hardly speak. It’s so hard to even look at him when his eyes are no longer filled with gentleness and powerful love. All she can see in those eyes now is overwhelming disappointment.
He started working at the sawmill, to cover for both Lucas and her. She hasn’t been allowed to leave the house yet. He does nothing but work. The only time Cora sees him is when he comes in for meals with the rest of the men. They, too, have shut her out. They all loved Lucas. They hated seeing him hurt. They don’t think for a single second how much she hated it too. Alexia has not come to visit, and Coraleth is sure it isn’t because her father isn’t letting her. Alexia liked Lucas. Coraleth doesn’t know how much. Also, she would have been rather offended when Cora missed dinner.
So now Cpra is alone. Totally, utterly alone. And she realizes that one doesn’t only need to reject Herus to experience Hades. The first week was nearly unbearable. This week was hardly better, but now, at the end of this week, she’s more numb to it all. She learned to just push every thought away and stare up at the rafters above her bed, listening to the waterwheel outside. It calms her.
That’s what she’s doing tonight. She lies motionless in bed, in the middle of the night. Her eyes trail up and down a groove in one of the rafters glistening in the silver moonlight. Her father’s snores grate her troubled mind rather than soothe her like they once did. She’s actually surprised; he hasn’t snored in awhile.
Cora squeezes her eyes shut, wishing sleep would come. But her heart is still too wracked with pain. She pulls her pillow out from behind her head and wrap her arms around it, pretending it’s someone who loves her. She needs contact. She needs it.
Wearily, she sighs. She wishes she hadn’t left Adam’s game bag on the ground. She wishes she had it still, a piece of him. She, of course, no longer blames him. Doing so was just shifting the blame off of herself. Thoughts of him have been the main reason she’s not died of pain and loneliness yet. She still can’t stop thinking about him. She hopes he’s well.
Cora turns to the window and stares out. An idea occurs to her, a mad idea, so mad that she dashes it right out of her mind. But it crawls back in, curling to life. It’s the same idea she had in her mind two weeks ago, when she was waiting for the men to unload lumber from the back of the wagon. She’s actually had this thought many times in the two agonizingly long weeks.
I could see him if I wanted. I could run away and see him.
Cora was wrong then, two weeks ago. She thought that seeing him just once would satisfy her craving. But it hadn’t. If anything, it made it even stronger. She wanted to see him again from the second she’d left him. She knows it won’t go away. Her father can’t possibly get more upset with her. She might as well.
Papa. Oh, Papa, why won’t you just forgive me? I miss talking to you. I miss the relationship we once had.
Then she realizes that leaving would have more than one advantage. Of course, she could see Adam, but she would also be distancing herself from her father and the pain of his silent presence. That alone is worth leaving.
This time, Cora’s reasoning against it is so weak that it crumbles to dust right away. She slips out of bed and puts on her clothes and shoes, thankful that the incessant soreness of her body has finally ebbed. She takes her bow and quiver from their dusty place behind the door. That’s when her heart and stomach flip. Her father’s snores have stopped.
Cora turns and sees him standing in the doorway of their bedroom. She gasps in fright, waiting for him to scold her. He just sets his cold blue eyes on hers and lowers his bushy eyebrows. For a few seemingly eternal moments, they just stare at each other. Though there is no verbal communication, his eyes speak volumes.
Where are you going? Running away? Back to Hale? Back to Adam Spruce? I thought they were done with him. I thought you had learned your lesson. I thought things would eventually return to the way they were before. But you’re different. You’re running away. You’ve never run away before. He’s changed you. Nothing will ever be the same. Our previous lives are dead., like your mother and siblings. Why are you trying so hard to hurt me?
Cora blinks away from his gaze. Those last two thoughts...she hopes she misread them. She hopes her active mind just threw them in with everything else she saw. She drags her eyes back up to his.
“I’m not trying to hurt you,” she whispers.
He eyes the bow clutched in her hand, as if she’s going to use it on him. “You’re not?”
Cora swallows, tears rapidly coming to her eyes. They haven’t talked about the incident since it happened, but it’s always boiled beneath the surface of their infrequent interactions. Now, confronted with it, Cora trembles, but her determination rears its head. If she’s running away, she won’t have another chance to tell him what she’s been thinking over these long two weeks.
“No,” she whimpers, “I never wanted to hurt anyone. It’s cruel of you to punish me for so long.”
“It’s only been two weeks that you’ve stayed inside,” he protests.
“Not that! I don’t care about having to stay inside. It’s you! I miss you, and you won’t forgive me. And it hurts...” She sobs. “It hurts so much.”
“It hurts me, too,” Papa answers gravely, his voice wavering ever so slightly. The sound of it makes Cora stagger. “But you lied to me for an entire month.” She wishes he was yelling. It’d be better than this firm, quiet tone. “I told you when you were crying by the lumber stacks that you didn’t have to marry him. In fact, I asked you several times if you were completely sure about your decision. You didn’t have to accept. You didn’t have to learn to love him. Everything would have stayed the same if you didn’t. But you did. You chose to marry him. You led him along for four straight weeks—”
“I know!” she interrupts sharply. “You don’t have to remind me!”
“I’m not trying to remind you,” he counters. “I’m trying to tell you that it’s hard to forgive you for that.” It’s also hard to forgive someone who hasn’t even uttered the words, “I’m sorry.” “Over and over I asked you, and over and over you lied to me. I didn’t raise you to be a liar. I wouldn’t have cared if you decided not to marry him, if that’s what you wanted. You chose instead to go along with it. Don’t you see? Lucas was already like a son to me. The wounds are still healing.”
“You think I don’t feel them too? You think I’m just floating above all of this?” She shakes her bow between them. “I want to run away from this.”
“Yes! I can’t stand the distance between us anymore. It’s too much.”
“I’m trying, Coraleth, I really am.”
“Not hard enough!” she says, her heart twisting. She lays a hand over her face and gives into her pain for a moment, then takes a deep breath and raises her head. “Maybe some time apart would do both of us some good.”
He sighs, his eyes glistening. “I don’t want you to leave.”
She looks at the door. She could walk through it and never return, but the prospect is terrifying. “I’ll be back someday,” she promises him, and realizes the magnitude of what she’s saying. She’s not just visiting another town. She’s leaving.
“Where will you go?” he asks softly.
She looks back at him. “I have no idea.”
It’s silent for a long, long moment. Cora thinks he’ll say something else, but he doesn’t. That must be the signal for her to go. She steps to the door, each movement agonizing. Am I really doing this? Am I leaving my own father? She wants to embrace him so badly, to feel his strong, loving arms around her, comforting her once again. But she can’t. She wouldn’t be able to handle it.
Cora opens the door and clutches the side of it. “This isn’t goodbye forever,” she says fiercely, not wanting to sound as weak and scared as she feels. “This is just...goodbye for now. I’ll be all right, so don’t worry. Please.” She can’t bear to turn around and face him again.
“You know I’ll worry,” he says behind her.
“I know,” she whispers. “I’m just telling you not to.”
“Well then, goodbye for now, Cora-Mae,” he says, closer behind her now. “I hope you find happiness out there.”
Cora swallows hard and pulls her bow over her head, adjusting it around her body. She hardens herself against the wave of pain and longing that sweeps over her.
“Me too,” she replies, so quietly that she doubts he even heard her.
And with those words, she steps out and closes the door behind her.