White Knight(3)

By: CD Reiss


But that wasn’t true. Lance had tethered me to the boy I’d been and to the woman I’d loved. With him gone, was I still linked? Or was I stranded with no family, no attachments, no one to hurt if things went south? Loneliness hung off my ribs like a lantern. This co-op. My properties. The portfolio. Built before I’d met my ex-wife, to offer security to a woman who didn’t want me, and crashing with nothing to hold it up.

I needed time to sort it out but gave myself none.



* * *



Brian—I’ll sell if you want it.





* * *



I tapped out an email quickly but didn’t send it. Then I spent ten minutes looking for pen and paper.



* * *



Dear Catherine,

I will try to keep this letter short in the hope that you even remember me.





Chapter 2





catherine - present





The black garbage bag snagged on a piece of metal in the floor and ripped open, dumping a pile of unidentifiable debris all over the concrete.

I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want half the town to see it.

“Let me help you.” Reggie, his sandy-copper hair darkened to brown with sweat, snapped up a snow shovel that leaned against the wall. He trotted across the abandoned factory floor like a kid asking to clear my walk two months early.

“Thank you,” I said, going to the long steel table in the center of the room where the roll of bags was kept. “I think we’re making a dent.”

The snow shovel scraped along the floor with the shriek of metal on stone, but against the backdrop of dozens of people cleaning out the space, it was barely a whisper.

“Getting that graffiti off made all the difference.”

Of course he’d say that. He’d used the walls of the shuttered factory as a canvas through his early twenties, when he was as angry as the rest of the town over the closure.

The anger was still there, but a measure of the despair was being replaced with hope. The people of Barrington were working together to clean the bottling factory that had been the town’s lifeblood until it closed eleven years before. The bank had repossessed the property soon after my father died and my mother defaulted on the mortgage.

Last week, a real estate agent one town over mentioned to a bartender that she was showing the factory to a Silicon Valley tycoon. The news took thirty-six hours to get to my ears. It wasn’t long before the town of Barrington gathered the will to make a plan.

We needed to make the best impression. We were proud people, and that factory, my father’s old factory, had been the source of that pride. I still had most of the interior keys, and the gates had been breached hundreds of times in eleven years. Only this time, we wouldn’t go in to vandalize it, but to clean it.

I wouldn’t see a dime from the factory’s sale, but the new jobs, new people, new money would do something greater than line my pockets. It would fulfill my life’s work of getting Barrington back on its feet.

Reggie scooped up a pile of junk left by teenagers and homeless adults and let it slide into the bag I held open. We filled it, tied the top, and dragged it to the open window. Florencio was by the dumpster underneath, picking up the bits of garbage around it.

“Look out below!” Reggie cried.

Florencio stepped away and we threw the bag out the window and into the dumpster with a muted crash.

It occurred to me that this was all over.

This run of despair was over. The never-ending troubles, the broken system, the exodus from a place I love—over. My trust fund had been drained, my furniture sold, my future pawned so I could keep Barrington and its people above water.

I was almost done.

That night, I cried myself to sleep as I often did. For the first time, it wasn’t out of tension or habit, but fear.





Chapter 3





CATHERINE - SIXTEENTH SUMMER





At the Doverton Country Club, a boy, the boy, the one who was mine the minute I saw him, worked on the grounds. He had sun-coppered hair and strong arms. In the summer, his skin was a burnished russet that made his blue eyes otherworldly. By the second week of my sixteenth summer, all the girls at the club giggled over him. They were mostly from Doverton, but he and I were from neighboring Barrington. The town bore my name because my father and his father before him had owned the bottling plant, and that was what you did back then. If you created the town and made it thrive, you named it after yourself. Fifty years later, it was still named Barrington, we still lived there, and the folks in Doverton called it Trashington.