The trees rushed at her face as she sped through the dark forest, nothing but muscle memory leading her down the green path. She could hear the men behind her, shouting in their local dialect that a thief was on the loose. She knew they would be on her soon enough if she did not lose the weight of the money and gold at her hips, but she could not. She needed everything in the bag so letting go was not an option.
Her eyes fell on the light from afar and she saw it then, the light as it hit the end of the sea. Her escape, her way out. Her feet moved faster, and she picked up her pace towards the cliff. Seventy steps after she passed the ancient oak tree, she would be free. The more she ran, her chest ached, and her muscles burned but she smelled it, the ocean, and her freedom.
She got the edge of the cliff and jumped but life was anything but sweet. It had a way of taking perfection and slapping it into a paste of pain. Her shoulder burned as she was in the air, a sharpened arrow tore through the flesh of her shoulder and she hit the water roughly from the shock.
The scream woke her from her dreams. Nadine flinched at the bright sun flooding the room, tucking her head beneath the sheets in an attempt to shield her eyes. The bed dipped behind her and she peeked up from the duvet to find her husband crawling up to her. She laughed, taking in the silly grin on his face before he stretched forward to smack a wet kiss on her forehead. Nadine pushed herself up, steeling against the soreness she felt as she adjusted some pillows behind her. Dominic, her husband, who she fondly called Dom on some occasions, sat on the edge of the bed, watching her carefully.
“Ready for work so early.” She reached her hand out to him, her eyes taking in his neatly pressed suit and polished shoes.
“Yes.” He replied taking her hands in his and kissing them gently. “It’s actually not so early. I just did not want to wake you. You looked quite exhausted last night so I made sure to turn off all the alarms before I slept.”
Nadine pulled her hand from his grasp, stretching to trace the sides of his face before pulling him closer for a kiss. Dominic pulled away and she smiled, adjusting the knot of his tie for him. It had been almost a week since she returned from the hospital and she mostly stayed in bed or walked around the house. Dominic had been attentive each day, waking her up and taking care of her.
Dominic reached for a strand of her hair, twirling it between his fingers and he smiled. “Made you some breakfast. Not grade A cooking and am pretty sure the staff had the time of their lives watching me, but I can promise you it tastes like food.”
She laughed, watching him pull away from her and walk to grab a small tray. Nadine sat up and used the band on her wrist to tie her curly hair up on her head just as he placed the tray in front of her then smacked a kiss on her lips again and she laughed.
She watched him pull the napkin from the tray and set it on her lap, mumbling to himself through the entire process. Dominic was the best husband she could have wished to have all her life. There was not a thing about him that she would change. He was bright, thoughtful, hardworking, and one of the kindest people she had met. He was always putting her first.
“You really didn’t have to do all this for me. You are going to be late if you stay for too long.”
“Don’t worry yourself with that at all, okay? I would be right on time for work but right now, I want to make sure you like the breakfast, and then I would find my own way out. Come on,” he urged, lifting the spoon towards her mouth, “Tell me what you think.”
She blew on the soup before she slurped it into her mouth, licking the soup that dripped down her lips as she pulled the spoon from Dominic’s fingers. “Not as bad as I thought it could be.”
“I refused to be offended.” He stood from the bed, leaning down towards her. Nadine lifted her face to his, pressing her lips against his and slipping her hand behind his neck. Nadine knew that Dominic did not blame her for what happened; she knew he believed it was not her fault but she had a voice that liked to tell her otherwise. Dominic kissed her cheek, pasting kisses down her jaw before pressing their lips together for a short moment.
“I can stay.” He breathed against her, cupping the back of her neck gently. “I can stay.”
Nadine shook her head, pushing her fingers into his hair and laughing to herself. “No. No. You go to work and allow me to go back to bed. When you get back, we can... we can watch a movie or something.”
Dominic pulled back, brushing some short hairs off her face with his fingers. He looked her over for a moment and then nodded in submission. Nadine kissed him one more time before sitting back on the bed, resting her head on the pillows.
He laughed at her sluggish expression and turned to the mirror to adjust his collar and straighten his hair. With a small goodbye and a final kiss on her head, he slipped out the door and headed for work. The door clicked shut and she looked down at the soup picking up the spoon from the tray. As she ate, she took in the environment. The room she had lived in for over six years. The four-poster bed she slept on was huge; it could fit five full-grown adults and still have space for more. The room itself was equally large, with a very significant distance between the floor and the ceiling. Nadine could not remember feeling so small, so alone in the house.
She turned to look at the bedside clock after she had spent what felt like hours staring at the posters of her bed. It was nine in the morning; time did not seem interested in speeding during the past few days. Each hour seemed more dragged out than the last. It was more annoying than the silence Nadine felt around her. With a small sigh, she slipped out of the duvet and padded over to the bathroom.
She took her bath, brushed her hair and slipped into a comfortable pair of sweats. She packed up the tray and prepared to step out when a solemn knock came from the door. It slid open and one of the maids peeped into the room with an apologetic smile.
“I came to see if there was anything you needed. Mr. Marseille made you some soup and I wondered if you might want to eat anything more.”
Nadine laughed, allowing the woman to take the tray away from her. “If you are suggesting I was not able to stomach it you’d be pleasantly surprised. I am fine for now but in the afternoon I would see if there is anything I would be in the mood for.”
The door closed behind her when she stepped out of the house, the car keys chilling against her palm. Without a glance at the security men who watched her, she headed down to the garage. She slipped into the car, twisting the key into the ignition and drove out of the house. With a flinch, she rubbed her shoulders, muttering at the discomfort as she steered the car through the traffic. The phantom pains had been occurring more often than she prefered. Her dreams became stronger and more potent with each passing day, like a ticking bomb warning her that the end of her charades was closer to her feet than she could imagine.
The car rolled to a stop in front of the cemetery and she stepped down, pulling the hood of her jacket over her head. She walked around rows and columns of different gravestones before she found the one she was looking for. Sinking down to her knees, a small smile on her lips, she brushed away some petals that had fallen over the stones. Her fingers traced each word and tears fell down her cheeks.
Years ago, in a moment of anger and frustration, she made the selfish decision to leave her family. In the months following her escape, she always wondered how her mother felt, how her father felt, her sister, her friends. She knew they would be hurt and in pain but she never knew how it could hurt to loose someone until she suffered a loss of her own. Nadine smiled, laughing to herself as she reached forward to arrange the flowers at the head of the stone. She wondered if her parents still searched for her or if they had declared her dead after all these years. If the pain they initially felt had faded away and she had become something of a passing memory.
Her hand returned to her shoulder, massing the spot where the arrow tore through her skin. She sat down on the grass, stretching her legs out in front of her as she looked up to the sky. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to lay her demons to rest before the pain and the regret buried her alive.