A/N – Have I mentioned before that writing this story feels a lot like running a marathon? I'm a slow runner too, but I always intend to finish, even if I need to stop and walk, take breaks, or crawl across the finish on my hands and knees. Same goes for this story.
Thank you once again to all my readers for your patience and support. A big friendly "Hello!" to my new followers that have recently discovered the story! My apologies to all for the lengthy delay between updates. Yes, I do still intend to continue this story, but as usual, life, writers block, a big, brave girl who just started kindergarten, and a now very mobile baby have got in the way of timely updates. I return to work at the beginning of October (sob) so I'll hopefully have a bit more opportunity to get some writing done during the day while at the computer in my office than I do at home. In the meantime, I'm enjoying and making the most of the remainder of my maternity leave by spending as much time as I can with my family.
A few quick notes:
People were wondering why I've now included Christian in the character list. Since I included his POV, I figured I should acknowledge him in the story's description.
I've re-tooled chapters 5, 6, and 9. Thank you Greytosteele for your suggestions around that (and for proof-reading the majority of this chapter!) I may yet go back and re-tool a little more. This story has changed somewhat since I started, and I've gone back and tidied up some inconsistencies. I no longer want to explore a scenario where Christian falls in love with his mistress, so I've changed it to a more undefined strong feeling he had for her. It was largely lust and sex driven, turned on by the newness and taboo-ness of it all (which he discovers by his POV in the last chapter). He may have at one point thought he was falling in love, but by the last chapter has realized it wasn't. He is truly remorseful, but that obviously doesn't negate what he's done. We will hear from him again in his pov in a future chapter. We won't be hearing from Julie. Her part in the story is done.
Enough said! Let's get on with it!
Ana felt her energy begin to flag. Fortunately the 10 mile mark had a gel station. It was also fortunate she'd trained using the same energy gels they offered on the race course. She remembered her first half marathon when she tried using a different type of carb gel for the first time. Lesson learned. Do not try anything new on race day. Her recollection of the finish was marred by the memory of running past her friends, and directly to a nearby bush to vomit. Her upset stomach not only ruined her favourite running shirt and a perfectly good pair of runners, but also a great race that she had felt prepared for going in.
At this point in the marathon, there were faster runners that were already coming back on the other side of the street after the turnaround at Seaward park. Watching the speed and grace of the front-runners passing them in the other direction a few miles back on the I-90 bridge had been awe inspiring. As she neared the half-way mark, she came to the realization that the winners would likely be crossing the finish line at about the same time. I'm as slow as a herd of turtles stampeding through peanut butter. But at least I'm out here trying. That's got to count for something, right?
A tightness and burn started to form in her left hip flexor about half a mile back. An ongoing injury, Ana sought advice and treatment from massage therapists, physiotherapists, a chiropractor specializing in active release treatments, and even an acupuncturist. The aches and pains started up after her mileage increased beyond 7 mile runs. Repetitive stress on her joints and friction points made her experience new pains and ailments she had never dreamed existed before. Bodyglide, meant to reduce chafing from her clothes rubbing against moist skin and thus minimize blistering, became her new best friend. She became obsessive about what she wore, and what she did during her pre-and post-run regimes. After some experimenting, she learned to start every run with her usual ritual: an application of the anti-friction balm, band-aids around the third toe of each foot (to keep the fourth toes from rubbing the corns that developed there), KTtape across the back of her ankles, technical socks over top, a specific pair of shorts that didn't ride up with each step (leggings in the cooler weather), a solid sports bra that kept "the girls" in place while she ran, moisture wicking polyester top, and her favourite running hat that provided ventilation to keep her from overheating but kept the rain off (and, most importantly to her, didn't make her look like a pin head). Two ibuprofen pills and an extra two for later in her waist pack water bottle holder, and she was good to go. While she was not a high maintenance kind of girl as far as makeup and everyday fashion was concerned, she became one when it came to running and exercise gear. The little things made a big difference in comfort and performance, especially when taxing herself at higher mileages.
Posture, Ana. She reminded herself. Relax your shoulders. No t-rex arms! Stabilize your core muscles. Watch that stride until the next mile marker. To offset the nagging pain in her hip, she employed the tricks her physiotherapist had suggested. There were little techniques like this that she picked up to help manage her gait and reduce the chance of injury. As a bonus, they kept her too busy with focusing on little tasks that it took her mind off the little niggling voice in her head telling her to stop.
She was no stranger to discomfort while training. Most of the pains were from the micro-tears in the muscle fibers that came with each new challenge she conquered. Ana learned, however, that with the pain came strength. As those tears healed, it made the muscles stronger, and, in time, she was able to easily run further and longer than she ever had before. Running became, not only a vehicle for her transformation, but also a metaphor for her life.
She learned to walk when she absolutely needed to. There was certainly no shame in walking parts of the race. Again, she was still moving forward, and that was the important thing. Some days were easier than others to ignore the "just stop" voice. She learned to incorporate regular walk breaks in the latter parts of her run, when she needed it. Some runners did the entire race in ten minute run pieces with one minute walk breaks in between. She utilized a combination of the two, disciplining herself to keep walk breaks as close to one minute as possible, and sticking to the ten and one pattern whenever she did feel her energy flagging and the need to stop and walk too strong to resist. The last time she ran 23 miles of the race course, her longest run until today, she felt tired but surprisingly strong. This spawned her confidence to be able to complete the race. The additional bodies running alongside her made it an entirely different experience, however. Time would tell how this race would end for her. More experience was a good thing, and Adam often reminded her that, good or bad, you could always learn something from each race. Whether this was to be her only marathon was yet to be determined, but at the very least she would keep track of the details that could help her should she decide to run another one in the future. In the meantime, Ana did her best to soak in the entire marathon experience: the energizing cheers from the spectators, the motivational signs, the push and camaraderie from the other runners around her. Life is about the journey, not the destination, and part of the marathon experience was not just crossing the finish line, but in taking in and enjoying all of the sights, sounds, and experiences each step of the way.
Much like with her running, Ana learned over time to be kinder and more forgiving of herself. Some days required a minute by minute approach to keep from imploding. On other days she had to employ distraction to keep forward momentum. There were days that felt more like a crawl than a sprint, but simply moving forward was always her focus.
Along this stretch of Lake Washington Boulevard approaching Seaward park, she spotted three familiar faces and a hand-lettered sign that made her smile, reading: Worst Parade Ever. Elliot, Kate, and their daughter Ava, bundled against the November chill in their jackets and mittens, stood cheering her on. Ava beamed and waved frantically. "Auntie Ana!" She screamed, overjoyed at having finally spotted her amid the sea of other runners. Ana angled herself over for a quick round of high-fives.
"So proud of you, honey." Kate grinned.
"Me too." Ava added, bouncing in place.
"Me three!" Elliot chimed in.
"Can I give these to you to hold for me?" Ana threw her gloves and arm-warmers to Kate. "I don't want to carry those for the rest of the race."
"Thanks guys. This means the world to me that you're here." And it did. To spend a Sunday morning standing around in the cold for a brief glimpse as she ran past was a greatly appreciated show of support. The help she got from Kate certainly varied in the last few years. Ana never doubted Kate's fierce loyalty and protectiveness towards her. At times frustrating, she did appreciate that it was one of the things that helped keep her afloat. Old friendships, and new ones, provided an immeasurable boost when she needed it most.
"Okay, we don't want to keep you. Go, Ana, go! We'll meet up with you later." Kate blew her a kiss. "You're amazing, Ana!" She called after her. "Love you!" Ana gave a wave as she continued on.
Less than three years ago
Ana had walked out of the meeting angry and ready to cut ties completely. Kate spent the night, plying her with wine and ice cream, providing both a proverbial and literal shoulder to cry on. Ana saw Flynn again eventually, this time primarily focusing on her own mental health. Hitting bottom and considering suicide frightened her enough to seek out professional assistance, in whatever form that took. Flynn was a good sounding board. He acknowledged her feelings of anger and mistrust. He always offered the opportunity to meet with them as a couple, but at this time she refused, sticking to her decision to separate.
"That door is always open, Ana. I can appreciate that the hurt is still too new for you to want to consider reconciliation, but as you process things, just keep in mind that it is an option. Whatever your ultimate decision is, I'm here to help you work through that."
Ana shrugged. "I can't fathom forgiving him for something like this. I know other couples have done it. But I just don't know if I can."
"Do you feel forgiveness might be possible? Or is cheating a one-strike infraction for you?"
Ana pondered this while absentmindedly picking at her nails. "Before this year, I've never given it much thought. I never fathomed anything like this would happen to me. Who does? I suppose at one point I thought we could overcome anything, but I'm having a hard time considering it right now. This doesn't seem like something I can ever get over."
She shook her head as she pondered it. "It's killing me. I can't stand to even look at him, but the kids are beside themselves. I've been there. I've survived my mom's divorces, I know what it's like, and I know it's not pleasant for them to see us like this."
"It's not recommended to stay together for the sake of the kids, but are you certain things between you and Christian are beyond repair?"
"All I can think of when I see him is the two of them together. All I can focus on is what they did together, every sick, minute detail. My brain won't stop imagining it, piecing together details of what he might have said to her or done with her. Whether his heart raced when they kissed. Whether he let her touch his chest. Whether he braided her hair, or cuddled with her after, or told her he loved her. Whenever I try to think of our past and what we had together, it's tainted by what he's done. I can't help but wonder what else he's lied about, and how sincere his love for me was."
Flynn gave a knowing nod. "It's a huge betrayal, and certainly one that's not easily nor completely forgiven and forgotten. Some people don't ever get over it."
"That's not encouraging." Ana quipped, dryly.
Flynn acknowledged her joke with a smile before continuing. "The best option for many people deciding to end the relationship is to cut off ties and contact and move on. Every situation is different, however. Some people need time, and come to the decision that they can live with the circumstances and move on, even though it's painful. You need to evaluate what you're able to live with, and what's important to you. You're still in the early stages, and still running on very high emotions at the moment. You've suffered a trauma, and your brain and your heart are in overload trying to process it all. You may have very different feelings once you're in a different stage of grief. Give yourself a few months to continue processing, and you can re-evaluate your decisions then. In the meantime, if you do decide to proceed with divorce, you can consult with a lawyer about your options and continue to see me whenever you need to talk."
The advice she was receiving from friends, and research of similar victims of infidelity on the internet overwhelmingly garnered the same message that was much less reserved than Flynn's: One strike and he's out. Move on. Once a cheater, always a cheater. Dump him, lawyer up, and maintain no contact. Still feeling immensely hurt and betrayed, and wanting to regain her sense of self, she felt inclined to follow this route.
"Can he change? Is it possible for a cheater to never do it again?"
"It's possible. If he's committed and dedicated enough to make amends and take all measures necessary to keep communication open and to never stray. However, whether you ever trust him again is something you'd have to work at and is a key part in deciding whether you wish to continue with him or to separate permanently."
That was the part Ana was having difficulty with.
"As for Christian specifically, you'd need to talk to him in order to decide whether you can put any trust in him again." Flynn had remarked at one meeting when she questioned it. "The challenge is deciding whether you want to give him another chance. Again, it's not the best time to make that decision, but take some time to yourself to think it over. In the meantime, the most important thing you can do is to take care of yourself."
During the course of her sessions with Flynn, she started on antidepressants. Within a few weeks, she felt the fog begin to lift. It wasn't a huge transformation, but enough to provide a bit of relief from the crippling depression. It filled the hole in just enough for her to gain a bit of purchase. It wasn't as hard to see options, and to view life less pessimistically. She still had work to do, however. The reprieve from the darkness allowed her to take a few cautious steps forward.
Subsequent meetings with Flynn also helped her gain different, more balanced ways of thinking. Along with this, she also began to develop other skills and methods of coping and stress release. One of her tools was her new running hobby. It started out slowly. She promised herself: just one training session. Let's wait and see how it goes before committing to anything. Take it one run at a time. Each time she went out, as much as she dreaded it and had the urge to turtle back into her shell in the comfort of her home, she pushed herself. At the end of each session, she found herself feeling better. She was proud of her little steps forward. Each milestone, literal and figurative, was another foothold out of the pit.
Just as Adam had promised, the build-up over the following weeks was slow and consisted largely of walking with bits of jogging thrown in. The increase of running time was gradual, but do-able. Before she knew it, she was able to run 10 minutes without stopping. Then 20. Then 30. She still wasn't at the stage where she could say she loved running, but there were moments where she felt more than just tolerant of it. The sense of achievement was the most profound effect. Her first race, ever, was a 5K fun run in the pouring rain. Teddy and Phoebe were there cheering her on. Afterwards, even though she swam in it, Phoebe wore Ana's commemorative t-shirt around like a medal of honor. "Next you'll be doing marathons!" Elliot had joked. "Yeah, right." Ana had scoffed. "Like that would ever happen. This is just a hobby. I'm not a hard-core runner or anything."
Shifting topics, Flynn sat back and addressed Ana's progress. "I'm very pleased you're being proactive at maintaining your wellness. Medications can help, but are not the only solution. Let's talk about the new outlet you've created for yourself. How is the running going?"
Ana smiled. "It helps. I can almost forget everything going on when I run."
"The endorphins from running and physical activity are a natural antidepressant as well. They're not a substitute for medication, but can certainly help. Will the running be something you'll continue?"
"Yes. I'll try my best to continue." Ana did feel better when she ran. The anxiety and depression seemed to dissolve with each foot-fall, and though she was still only logging modest mileage, her runs gave her the opportunity to have some time to herself to work through her thoughts and emotions. This helped get her out the door, especially on the cold, rainy days she would have rather spent warm and dry indoors than out exerting herself.
She went back and forth over her options, remaining conflicted over the choices before her. One thing was certain, whether she reconciled with Christian or not, she wouldn't be able to move forward if she couldn't gain her footing back first. Her foundation was cracked by Christian's infidelity. She lost, not only faith and trust in her husband, but in herself as well. When the depression took root and spread like vines, she lost more than the initial offense took from her. That could not be forgiven easily.
Flynn was respectful of where she was at, and likened her recovery to clearing away the weeds, a continuing process that would take time, patience, and multiple efforts.
The time had come, however, when she needed to make a decision.
The thought of divorce prompted another bout of sadness. Could she possibly forgive him? Get past what he'd done? At this point she felt only bitterness and hurt towards him, but it still hurt to consider such a final step. Ana consulted with an attorney and, with a heavy heart, filed for divorce and awaited Christian's response. Friends assured her it was the best decision.
Telling family was difficult. Carla and Bob were obviously supportive. Ray was practically murderous. She spent time with him when she could, and brought the kids for sleepovers and fishing trips. He provided a quiet strength and a shoulder to cry on. Though she didn't want to burden him with her issues, she knew she could always count on her father to provide support and comfort when she needed it. She remained cordial with the Greys, and chose to remain connected with them for the kids, but left it to Christian to explain the details. They were supportive, though understandably their love for their son left them torn. In order to avoid any awkwardness, Ana distanced herself, secure in the knowledge that they sympathized with her despite this.
The kids were adapting. Like her running, there were good days and bad. She knew one thing – at this particular point in time, she wanted to focus more on repairing herself to set a strong example for her kids. She needed to rebuild who she was, her sense of identity and self-worth. Any steps beyond that – not knowing what was around the corner – terrified her.
Ana began to come out of her shell a little more. She was still fragile, and wary of any romance, but found great new friends through the run group. Adam was an enormous support, and a source of much needed laughter. It didn't hurt that he was easy on the eyes too. He flirted with her whenever he had the chance, and eventually, Ana found herself flirting back a little.
Her running pace group was made up of a variety of people. All were friendly. She lost herself in the chatter during jogs. Though she liked to keep to her own thoughts during her runs, she did find the group setting easier to make it through the long runs and to commit to the training plan than doing them solo. Something about getting to know her cohorts and enduring and progressing through physical activity together made it a bonding experience. They each had their reasons for seeking out running. One was a breast cancer survivor that took up running as a bucket list challenge. Another was on a weight loss journey and looking to increase her activity level. The camaraderie was something she enjoyed, and an extra perk to taking up the activity.
With the divorce papers filed, it had then become a waiting game to see what Christian's response would be and how quickly she would see it.
Christian had been living at Escala since she insisted he leave. Even though he was finally respecting her desire for space, security continued to follow her and the kids from a distance. She was aware of this. She was also aware that he was practically beside himself with contrition; calling, emailing, sending gifts, attempting to visit or make any sort of contact. She ignored all but the necessary interactions – figuring out time with the kids, sorting out living details. She wanted as simple a life as possible, no distractions or reminders of Christian or his betrayal. Continuing to live in their home was painful, but she kept the kids in mind when deciding to stay.
Within, what was likely a few minutes after receiving the papers, Ana received a phone call.
"Divorce papers?" She could feel his anger and panic through the phone. She bristled at the tone.
"Fuck, Ana, we can work on this. Please. I'm sorry. Please don't give up on me. Don't give up on us." His voice cracked with emotion.
Be strong, Ana. He'll only hurt you again. Remember what he did. Remember how he hurt you. You can't trust him.
"I know I fucked up. Badly. But does it really have to come to this? Can't we talk about it? Work through it?"
Ana shook her head emphatically, and struggled to keep her tone steady. "I'm done talking."
"Please give me a chance. I'm begging you." He pleaded with an anguished intensity she'd only witnessed from him once before. She visualized him, kneeling in submissive position before her. Her heart broke now as it had then.
Ana bit her lip to keep from letting out a sob. It was disarming hearing him, a proud and powerful man, supplicating himself in front of her, begging forgiveness. He would do anything for her, she knew that. But the thought of the reason they were in this position in the first place resurfaced, overriding any other feelings of sympathy and clemency towards him.
"Please don't make this harder than it already is for me, Christian. This wasn't a decision I made lightly and it is not one I intend to yield on."
"Fuck," he muttered under his breath.
"Christian, we need to tell the kids."
Their visitation arrangements had felt temporary and tenuous. The kids went with it, bravely, but held out hope that things would soon return back to normal. It had been confusing and unsettling seeing their parents separated.
"We need to sit down and talk to the Phoebe and Teddy, and you need to move the rest of your stuff out of here." She had explained to him. "They've been living in limbo for too long. They need answers so they can get on with their lives, and you need to stay away from me."
It was clear Ana would not budge from this decision. Neither looked forward to this discussion with the kids, but agreed it had to happen and was best done together. They decided to provide a united front and explain things to the kids together, as civilly and diplomatically as possible.
When he finally arrived a few days later, he looked like hell. She hadn't seen him since their last meeting with Flynn, but it was obvious this was not easy on either of them. She knew he felt adrift. She'd been married to him for years and knew he was shaken. Knowing he was suffering gave her a modicum of satisfaction, though it was a hollow feeling and still left a bitter taste in her mouth. He waved a file folder at her.
"My lawyers will be looking through these before I sign anything."
Ana nodded. "I expected as much. Do what you must."
They moved into the living room. "I'll call the kids down when we're ready."
"Will we tell them why we're separating?" Christian asked, leaning against the arm of the sofa.
"I'd rather not go into details. They love you, and you're a good father to them. I respect that and won't compromise that by talking negatively about you in front of them if you promise to do the same."
"I could never say a negative word about you to the kids Ana. I'd have no reason to."
Ana merely nodded and continued.
"Are you okay with continuing the current visitation schedule? We can alternate on holidays and birthdays. You can see them for three weeks in the summer."
"Fine. That's fine."
Christian shook his head and heaved a sigh.
"I'll find a new place if you'd rather keep the house…"
"I'd rather stay here with you," he responded quietly.
Ana glared, and Christian shrugged apologetically.
"I know that's not going to happen though. Finding a new place is not necessary. Take the house. Take it all. I swore to you from the start that if I didn't have you, nothing mattered. I'll remain at Escala."
Ana bit her tongue, wanting to lash out with another barb about his dalliances, but remained quiet.
"Take the staff. And the money…"
"No, we can manage. I'm keeping Grey publishing, but you need Taylor and Gail, I don't know how you'll eat otherwise. I can cook for myself and the kids."
Christian gave a weak smile at her jab about his cooking skills.
"I do not want to be followed. I know the kids need protection. I get that. And that's fine, but I want to live my life with no other connections to you, do you understand?"
Christian nodded, hesitantly. "I want to make sure you're safe too."
"You've lost any right to have a say in what I do. No security."
"Fine," he finally relented, grimacing in futility.
Ana continued. "I don't want to hear from you other than to discuss the kids. No contact. We're done, Christian."
He looked pained as his eyes welled with tears.
To keep from breaking down herself, Ana affronted a curt tone. "The lawyers will hash out the division of assets. Take whatever you want out of the house to Escala, there's nothing I need other than the kids. And here –"
Ana handed Christian an envelope. The metallic clatter inside confused him, and he opened the flap to view the contents.
"I don't want them. They meant the world to me once, but now..."
Christian's jaw clenched, but he closed his fist on the jewelry without another word.
"That's all we need to discuss."
"Can we meet with Flynn again? Together?"
Ana shook her head. "I don't know how many times I have to tell you. I'm done."
They stood, two broken souls, wordless and motionless. A muscle twitched in Christian's jaw. Both struggled to hold back tears.
"We should talk to the kids now." No delaying the inevitable, Ana called them down to join them.
Teddy and Phoebe intuitively knew things were amiss. There was no way to camouflage the fact that there were problems. Phoebe did not take the split well. A mini diva at the best of times (albeit a sweet girl, most of the time), she began to act out more in response to, no doubt, feeling powerless over her world being turned upside down. Teddy, their strong, quiet Teddy, took things bravely in stride, but she knew he was torn up about the situation as well. After it became apparent that this was more than a simple fight, and that daddy wasn't going to live with them anymore, the challenge became what and how much to tell?
Ana took the lead.
"I know things have been... unsettled for the last while. And we're sorry for that. There have been things happening that are beyond your control, and we want you guys to know what's going to be happening. Please remember, though, that no matter what, we love you so much, and none of this is your fault. We're so sorry that you guys have to go through all this. We love you, and don't want to see either of you hurting. What's going to be happening will not be easy, but it's for the best right now." Ana took a deep breath as she looked upon their drawn faces. "Daddy will be living at Escala from now on."
Upon hearing this confirmation, Phoebe began to cry.
"For how long? I thought he was coming back."
"No, sweetie. I don't know how long he'll stay there."
"I don't know, honey. I think so. He won't be living with us here anymore."
"Do you not love him anymore?"
"That's... that's a difficult question to answer honey."
"Are you getting a divorce?"
Christian looked to Ana, and carefully responded with, "Mommy and Daddy need to sort things out between the two of us. I don't know what's going to happen yet, but that's one of the things that's likely to happen."
"But why?" Teddy piped up. "Why does daddy have to go away?"
"Daddy..." Ana looked at Christian.
"Daddy made a mistake." He finished.
"So fix it."
"It's not that simple, buddy. This is... this is what we need to do. Daddy can't live here right now. We both need to work on things, and we have to do that separately. And what's going to happen from now on is Daddy will be living at the apartment in Escala like I have been. You will stay here with Mommy during the week, and then you'll both come and stay with me on weekends, just like we've been doing for the last little while. Even though I won't be here, you know you can call me any time, day or night, and I'll be seeing you every week."
Phoebe began to cry harder, and Teddy looked visibly shaken, though he tried to remain stoic. Their parents and their family had been their whole world, and at that moment their life as they had always known it was crumbling.
"It will be okay. It will all be okay." Ana gathered her children in her lap and hugged them, uttering comforting words in a low soothing murmur and stroking their hair until after some time, they had settled. Once calm and quiet at last, they went to their rooms, exhausted, with promises of more answers to any questions they had later.
It would take time, but the hard part of bringing it into the open was done at least. They both knew it would be a challenge until they settled into their new routine, and that they would need to continue with the same message until their new "norm" was in effect.
Christian and Ana felt exhausted as well.
"I'll come back tomorrow while you're at work to get my things."
Christian ran his fingers through his hair fretfully, and they stood awkwardly for a moment, neither moving away.
"Look," Christian said, finally. "Before I go, I need to say this. I know I've destroyed our marriage. I was stupid. And selfish. It was the biggest fucking mistake I've ever made. I threw it all away for a fleeting rush, I know that now. I don't deserve you. I know you don't want to talk to me. I don't know how to fix this. I want you. I want our family to be whole again. I love you with all my heart and soul, that has never changed, but I also know I destroyed a key part of our relationship – your trust. When I took up with Julie, I set us on an unalterable course. I thought I could keep it from you. I was so ashamed and swore I'd end it and never let it see the light of day."
Ana's heart thundered in her chest. She didn't want to hear this all again, yet she was rooted to the spot.
"You asked me whether I was sorry for doing it or sorry I got caught. Well the answer is both. If I could erase what I did, I would. If I could spare you the hurt, I'd take it tenfold. If I could go back in time and undo every choice I made that led to it, scrub time so it never happened, I would, but I know what's done is done, and even though I regret ever going down that road in the first place, I can't ever forgive myself for it. As much as I want you to take me back, I don't blame you for never wanting to see me again. I can only beg your forgiveness, and hope you can one day see that I will do whatever it takes to be worthy of your love and our family."
Christian reached out to bridge the gap between them. He paused, his hand frozen just shy of her face, its course halted by the sight of her shrinking away from his touch. He held it there for a moment, just shy of its destination, then dropped it ineffectually at his side, clutching it into a fist to hide its trembling.
"I'm so sorry." He whispered and walked away.
Ana made her way to the window and watched as he headed for his vehicle. In the wake of his declaration, Ana felt her heart constrict with grief over the rush of conflicting emotions. The sadness and depression she had felt over the last several weeks had been gradually subsiding, and lately Ana found that white-hot anger was taking its place. At one point, the bitter and cynical part of her brain wondered if Christian would see the divorce as an opportunity to be free to finally take up formally with his side piece. Resentment and jealousy bloomed at the thought. Even though she wanted nothing to do with him at the moment, the irrational part of her brain wanted more than that. It wanted to see them hurt and humiliated in return for the powerlessness and indignity she felt, to suffer as badly, if not worse, than she had. It begged for vengeance and retribution. She dreamed up everything from a financial bitch-slap, to more elaborate scenarios involving public humiliation and a painful and incurable skin condition to befall their nether regions. The anger abated for a moment, though, while watching the broken man stepping into his car and sitting, head in hands, body wracked with sobs for a several minutes before collecting himself and driving away. Yes, he had crushed her, but she did not doubt his contrition at the moment was sincere. He was a man that lost everything through his own arrogance and stupid mistakes. Still, that could not erase the betrayal, nor the lingering pain the damage had left behind every time she thought of it. She didn't know if she could ever look at his face and not think of his infidelity. She didn't know if she could ever again hear his words and not wonder if he was lying or covering something up.
Ana sighed. Petty acts of revenge, while satisfying to daydream about, were not in her realm of functioning. Try as she might to harness her rage and act out on her wildest revenge fantasies, she could not bring herself to act on any of them. What benefit would come from sowing more bitterness and hatred? She did not want to give them the satisfaction of breaking her with this. As gratifying as it may be to execute the plans she'd formulated, she wanted to be the bigger, more gracious, and most dignified person at the end of it all. She adopted the belief that living well is the best revenge. And so, Ana vowed to fight to keep the depression at bay, pick herself up, and make herself stronger and happier. Fuck Christian. Fuck his mistress. Fuck the hurt and lies and bullshit.
She was moving on.
Ana's heart ached. The sudden urge to stop and walk overwhelmed her as her breath shortened and a sudden heaviness crept into her muscles. She slowed her pace and deepened her breathing, pushing past the urge to stop, her panting giving way to a more deliberate breath.
The memories no longer held as much sting as they once had, but they continued to hurt nonetheless. She let out a cleansing breath, letting the emotions flow and releasing them with each exhale. Some days she could think back to that time with a numb detachment, and other days the thoughts continued to pack such an emotional wallop she felt as if it were happening to her all over again. She just went with it, living through it with whatever feelings it brought up. Time would work its magic, and one day the hurt wouldn't hurt as bad.
She returned to people-watching as a distraction.
Day-glow shorts guy, thankfully, was nowhere to be seen at this point. Pink bandana girl (the stupid, fit bitch), was probably well ahead of her by now. There were two women to her left that she'd been on pace with for the last two miles. One wore a WSU shirt, and she entertained herself postulating a vivid back story, making up quirks and foibles, even what her hypothetical major and coffee preferences would be. Her imagination often wandered during long runs, but the brilliant story ideas she crafted along the route always evaporated whenever she went to write them down.
The man ahead of her had also been a few strides in front for a while. Ana tried to pass, but found the effort too difficult. Feeling comfortable at the current pace, she decided not to push it for now. Besides, her gaze inadvertently fell upon the steady, rhythmic bounce of the man's curly locks with each stride he took. Is that a mullet? Ana craned her neck to try to catch a glimpse of the rest of the man's head. Yes. I think that is a genuine mullet. Well rock-on, mullet man. Zeke. Can I call you Zeke? You look like a Zeke. You've got a great pace, but I will pass you. Not this mile, but maybe next one. There is no way I'm finishing behind a guy with a mullet. Wow. It's so bouncy. It's almost hypnotic. I wonder what kind of conditioner he uses. Would a guy with a mullet use conditioner? Does a mullet require a lot of care and upkeep?
Another matter shook her from her thoughts as she suddenly felt a hand on her arm.
"Hey 'Belle, are you checking out that guy's butt?"
"Chuck!" Ana's face broke out in a grin. "Oh my god, you're a machine! I can't believe you made it!"
"What did I tell you about calling me that?"
Ana rolled her eyes and scowled. "Sorry, Colonel Booty."
Ana couldn't suppress her laughter. "I'm so glad you caught up, Charlie!"
Her newest friend and other favourite source of distraction had finally caught up to Ana after a minor race-morning mishap and a flurry of texts just before the start. She looked forward to the company for the next few miles.
A/N 2 – I'm on twitter and facebook, so if you have any questions or are checking in on the story status, feel free to PM me or contact me there. I'm on Pinterest too. All of these addresses are on my author page.
I also offered, some time ago on Facebook, to give anyone that wanted it a spoiler for how I intend to end this story. As of right now, many readers are hoping it ends one way, while others are hoping for the opposite. If knowing the ending makes the decision to continue to follow my story any easier, or helps offset your angst levels somewhat, please contact me. That way, if you can't see yourself continuing to read if the ending is not what you're hoping for, you don't have to waste your time and emotional energy on future chapters. I won't spoil it for others that are looking to just go along for the ride and be surprised either way.
Oh, and finally, SHAMELESS PLUG for the amazing Wordrunner (W.R. Kimble). Her second book, Young Revelations (the follow up to Young Lies), has just been released. Buy it. Read it. Oh wait, buy Young Lies first if you haven't already. Then get Young Revelations. Trust me.