She knew she would be crying if she could only do so without shame.
But she didn’t know how. Her composure had wavered only once during this ordeal and the humiliation of it had almost rendered her unable to speak to Ethan when she saw him again in his surprise turnout at the funeral. She did not cry. Regina Mace did not cry. Sleep, perhaps. Eat, occasionally. Cry, never. Ingrained in her psyche both through upbringing and sheer force of will, Regina would never let herself go emotionally if she had even a shard of self control left in her body and, at this particular moment in time, her self control was at its apex.
It had to be, if only to survive today unscathed.
Now, sitting in the whirlpool bathtub of the overpriced hotel where Amelia had booked her until an early checkout Sunday morning, Regina’s thoughts bubbled from one to the next, growing, exploding, and reforming with no particular point or purpose other than to ebb her already-exhausted mind one step further into a hopefully dreamless sleep. She knew, however, that sleep was doubtful tonight. She also knew that, wherever Roger was, it was doubtful he was sleeping, either.
Letting out a small sigh, she reached for the hair band which knotted her hair atop her head and, feeling the long inky mane cascade down about her shoulders, took a deep breath and dropped below the surface of the turbulent water. Opening her eyes even as she felt the pressure of the jets around her neck and shoulders, she struggled to see through the water, but all her straining eyes could see was an endless wall of frothy, impenetrable foam.
* * *
Roger, on perhaps his eighth cup of coffee, stared out at empty parking spaces in front of the Empire, oblivious to his status as the sole customer for the past three hours. He had given up on the possibility that Regina might return around an hour ago, but still found himself unable to get up from the booth and drive across town back to a house where he might be expected to recount every detail of the wake and funeral with gory detail.
The waitress came and wordlessly refilled his coffee cup once more.
He wondered what Regina was doing.
* * *
She stepped out of the bathroom, a fog of steam pouring after her. Tying the belt of the plush terrycloth bathrobe loosely around her middle, Regina padded to the queen-sized bed and threw back the comforter to uncover an expanse of downy white sheets, the sumptuous nature of which she was woefully unaware as she lay back on them. She absently reached for the remote control and turned on the television, even as she pressed the button muting all sound from the apparatus. Settling back on the pillows, she let her eyes wander from the images, following the changing patterns the colors made on the walls and ceiling.
She had been caught unprepared today.
She knew that she would see him, had known it from the moment she had asked Amelia to find the telephone number that Regina had been too proud to admit she still remembered. She knew that she would see him because she knew that he was weaker than she was, and that the internal pressures to find him that she had felt and suppressed over the years would have been too great for him to ignore. She knew that he had probably successfully located her many years ago—after all, she had made no pretenses of hiding behind a corporate façade—and had only been waiting for the opportunity to dial a phone or pen a letter. Perhaps even knock on a door. She knew this because they were far more similar than she would ever like to admit. They shared a certain jadedness, jockeyed a similar wavelength, parleyed an analogous tongue. They both brimmed over with the same putrid liquid, and in their stench found sympathy.
And yet, even with all this knowledge, she had still been surprised.
Perhaps she’d thought that he would lack the courage. When she’d caught sight of him at the gravesite, felt him searching her back with his eyes, and then as she followed him in her rearview mirror, perhaps she had thought that he wouldn’t really possess the audacity to approach her, to talk to her, to voice the first words to her since his shouts that muggy afternoon with Wallis. Perhaps she’d thought that he would not be able to follow her into the diner, or would maybe not sit at her table. Or perhaps, barring all that, perhaps he would have found himself unable to say a word.
Or perhaps she hadn’t expected to feel about him the way she felt now.
* * *
He raised the cup to his lips, grimacing as they touched the icy liquid. Tearing his eyes away from the window, he looked down at the dregs in his cup and then around at the waitress, whom he located at the other end of the establishment, engrossed in a women’s magazine. Sighing, he shook his cuff back, straining to read the hands on his watch in the dim light of his booth. One-thirty in the morning.
He had been here for over six hours.
Grimacing, willing his legs to support his weight even as he felt his knees pop reproachfully, he shuffled his way to the girl who was still, amazingly, popping her gum impatiently at the glossy printed page.
“How much do I owe you?” he asked.
Looking up from the colorful spread, she regarded him with a gaze he failed to read. “It’s on the house,” she muttered after a few seconds’ consideration, turning her attention back to her reading, now ignoring him completely.
Roger walked back to his coffee cup. Picking it up, he drained the remainder of the chill beverage, feeling the grimes play on his tongue. Throwing a ten dollar bill on the table, he walked down the aisle, down the stairs, and across three parking spaces before getting into his car and shutting the door.
A story about losing your innocence, running away, facing your demons, and coming to terms with your past, Salve Regina is literary fiction steeped in anger, fear, love, and–ultimately–strength.
Salve Regina will be available as an e-book through all major e-book retailers this fall!
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