Chapter 9

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Restless, I flipped the lock and strode back into the bedroom I'd chosen earlier. I decided to forego the shower, tugging off my clothes and slipping into my favorite nightshirt. Climbing onto the bed, I plucked my tablet off the nightstand and booted it up. Whenever something bothered me, I'd dive into writing. A useful outlet, writing allowed me to purge my mind, my heart, and soul of everything that ailed me. Tonight was one of those nights, it seemed.

I flicked my index finger across the glass and tapped the small screen. In seconds, I brought up the file I'd been working on earlier. The thought of giving Gretchen a reprieve made me smile.

I'd made her in my image, though I'd tweaked several of her features and qualities to make her a tad different. If Thomas were to ever get a hold of this book someday, I didn't want him to know off the bat that I'd modeled quite a few things around our real-life happenings. He'd figure it out, eventually, of course.

My marriage to him had been a disaster. Then again, I'd married him at the tender age of seventeen. Forced into it, I'd been far too young to know what I'd wanted out of life back then.

Though most of the story was fiction, parts of it were taken directly from my own life. Granted, those, too, I'd tweaked in the hopes of hiding the pain and suffering I'd experienced back then. Gretchen's pain, heartache, and despair—those all came from me. The life she's living, however, that's all hers. I'd given her the choices that hadn't been allotted to me so long ago.

To my readers, this was nothing more than a new book I was working on. To Myrla, and several others I chose to share the story with, this was a slight retelling of a few things I'd experienced throughout the life I led.

I shook my head to clear it and reached for the stylus I'd left on top of the nightstand. It wasn't long before I immersed myself in the story I was trying to tell.

***

"Are you sure this is what you want?" Alicia asked.

"It is. I can't do this anymore. Jackson . . . He's not who I always thought he was. The things he does . . ." Tears seeped from the corners of Gretchen's eyes. "Help me. Please."

Alicia released a pent-up breath and nodded. "This is gonna change everything. You know that, right?"

Gretchen bit down on the lower right corner of her lip. She hated the fact that she'd end up deceiving all those she truly loved. Yet, she knew she couldn't let things remain the way they were. Deep inside, she refused to put up with Jackson's beating her whenever he saw fit to do so.

"Yes," she said at last. "I . . . I'll make it up to everyone somehow."

Her best friend stepped forward and clasped her hands. "You—WE will. We're in this together."

Gretchen leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Alicia's shoulders. The pain and heartache she'd been holding back for so long refused to remain locked within her. In the blink of an eye, the dam burst. Tears spilled down her cheeks. Deep sobs racked her entire body.

Alicia held her close, patting the small of her back in the hopes of reassuring her. "It'll be all right, Gretchen. You'll see."

Several minutes passed before her sobs ceased. She let go of Alicia and stepped back, reaching up to wipe the tears from her cheeks.

Her best friend burst into laughter.

Gretchen frowned. "What?"

"You . . . umm . . . you look like a raccoon. You've smudged your mascara."

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