She walks over the threshold, quiet, putting a hand out to slow the storm door as it swings shut. Without bothering to close the inner door, she walks through the house, trailing a hand along the wall. Her steps are slow as she takes in the immaculate rooms around her, all decorated in the finest fabrics and furniture, nothing but the best. Perfect. Fixing a painting hanging on one of the walls, she also fixes her hair. Continuing down a hallway, hand still trailing along the wall, she slowly reaches the back stairs and takes them one at a time. She is in no hurry. Outside, the sun is directly overhead, the heat almost unbearable.
At the top of the stairs, she turns right, down a hallway and into the master bedroom. The furniture, the décor, the atmosphere is perfect. Walking into the closet, surrounded by expensive outfits and even more expensive shoes she lightly drags her hand along the hangers, pulling out an ivory Valentino pant suit and strappy Jimmy Choo sandals. After that she removes a pair of white-gold diamond earrings and a simple white gold and diamond butterfly anklet. All of this she lies out on her bed before she enters her bathroom. There, she draws a tub of hot water as she sits at the vanity and applies makeup. Nude-pink lipgloss, a tiny bit of eye shadow and liner, mascara…no need for foundation or powder, her tanned skin is flawless. Perfect. Rising from the stool, she makes her way back into the large, full closet and removes another outfit, a white Dolce & Gabbana pencil skirt paired with a tucked-in light blue button front shirt and a silver chain belt. Not bothering with shoes, she slides out of her clothes and into the new outfit without any effort. She pads into the hallway, staring out the window onto the acres of still, silent land. Not long ago, the land below her would have been bustling with activity of all sorts. Not today. The grass is a healthy green, cut to the perfect height and all the clippings carted away. Backing away from the window, she walks as if in a trance back down the stairs and out the door. Her feet sink into the grass as she goes, not knowing what her destination is, but knowing she has to be there, to be out of the silent house that is deafening to her.
Her feet lead her to a structure on the edge of the property, an aged shed. Entering, everything is covered in dust, spider webs filling the corners and windows. There, on an old shelf with chipping paint is a carving below a faded photograph and above the remains of unused baby things. She picks the photo up and stares at it a long while. The woman in the picture with long brunette hair, shiny and wavy down her back, she is almost unrecognizable to this woman; with her timid, chapstick smile and naïve green eyes the photographed woman is a stranger. She is curled up in the arms of a young man, his azure eyes focused on her rather than the camera. Outlining the carving in the wooden shelf with her left index finger, she does not remove her eyes from the man and woman. The perfect couple. Perfectly matched. Perfectly in love. So engrossed in the picture, she does not notice her feet are once again carrying her somewhere, out of the weathered shed full of memories and regret. The woman in the photo, her hand clutches to the arm of the black haired young man. She seeks support from him, protection, and he gives it to her freely. This woman in the photo, she is far from perfect. She is pretty and bashful and meek, nothing like the woman staring into the still scene, the stolen moment.
Green eyes rip themselves from the snapshot and look around, at all the places full of so much history. She drops the picture, oblivious as it flutters to the ground, nestling itself in the perfect lawn. She is years behind the present, seeing, hearing, smelling a young man as he trails kisses down her jaw, runs his hand down her arm and links their hands together, watches her as though she is the only thing in the world that has any value to him. A hand comes to rest on her toned stomach, her face a myriad of emotions as she stares at the fields surrounded by black plank fencing and remembers.
"I love you."
"I know...but why?"
He smiles, his eyes lighting up as he reaches out and pulls her into his embrace. "Because you are beautiful, but don't know it. Because you can make me smile even on the worst day. Because you sometimes make me feel stupid you are so smart. Because you will argue with anyone if you are passionate about something. Because you are going to be the mother of my children some day, and you are the best thing that ever happened to me."
She bites her lower lip before her face comes alive with a wide smile, her eyes also smiling. "I love you, too, you know. Lord knows I could do better—" A screech escapes her as he tickles her sides and she wiggles out of his arms, a playful grin still on her face.
"What are you smirking about now?" He reaches out and traces the curve of her bottom lip as he asks.
"This." She leans forward and presses her lips to his, the rest of her body following to mold with his. He responds instantly, his right hand tangling in her hair and his left cupping her jaw as he deepens the kiss. They break apart after a few minutes and she nuzzles her face into the crook of his neck, closing her eyes and inhaling his scent.
Snapping back into reality, her face becomes void before she bends down and picks up the photo, carrying it with her into the house. The empty, noiseless house erected to shelter a family that has shattered. Back in the house she is stopped in front of a mirror, staring into her own blank green eyes. Taking in her shiny, perfectly straight brunette hair, and smiling her worldly lipstick smile, the one that has no depth but looks stunning, she notices her face muscles waver and that her eyes are a bit too bright as they stare at the white-gold sea turtle pendant on the thin chain around her neck. The woman in the mirror and the one in the picture are the same, five years apart. Tossing her hair behind her shoulder, she straightens her smile and banishes the wetness from her eyes before continuing up the stairs and back into her bedroom.
Sitting down on the floor in the closet, she looks around her at all she has acquired. The clothes, the jewelry, the shoes…but her eyes come to rest on the men's suits that still hang next to her dresses. They used to belong to the young man in the photo. Back when he was still around. Back when he was not galavanting off to other countries with an imperfect little twit seven years younger than herself, ten years his junior. Back when she was somehow still enough. Springing to her feet unsteadily, she proceeds to collect every photo album and picture frame in the house, pulling out the pictures of the man and woman with shaking hands. The ones where he looks at her with adoration and her eyes shine with an easily recognized emotion; the ones where his eyes and hands are drawn to her abdomen, rounded and swollen, and she is radiant under his gaze; the ones where his eyes are drawn to others and she looks at him, pleading, with her hands clasped in front of the remaining postpartum belly weight; the ones where neither looks at the other, her body toned and her eyes distant. Last, she finds the photos of herself in a white dress looking in love and the man in a black tuxedo, his arms wrapped possessively around her waist. All of these she takes and puts in an old shoe box and carries with her back to the old shed; on the shelf with their names carved, Trista and Ryker, on this shelf above all of the wasted baby gear she places the box of frozen moments in time. There is no need of reminders, no use in looking at how things were only to wind up hurting herself. They can stay here with the past until she is ready to remember.
Once back in her house, the oversized, empty white house, she looks around. It is even more empty than before, with only a few photos remaining to lend warmth. She takes it all in: the oriental rugs, the exquisite furnishings, the professionally painted walls, the dark hardwood floors. On her way to the bathroom she once again trails a finger behind her, not noticing the cut on it from the old shed and therefore missing the path of red she is leaving as she goes. In the bathroom she steps into the now tepid water in the tub, cleaning her feet before letting the water escape through the drain. Perfection, she thinks. What is there after that? She tried the whole imperfect world, and all that got her was a philandering husband, a scar on her abdomen and emptiness…massive emptiness. Perfection was really much less complicated, much easier. Reaching into the medicine cabinet, she pulls out an old-fashioned razor her husband kept for some reason during their marriage. He did not take it when he left; when she kicked him out for sleeping with another woman. When she kicked him out for not loving her anymore, for moving on and not informing her; for being callous enough to find someone else while she was still in the hospital recovering from the loss of their child.
She carries the razor into the closet and pulls one of his suit jackets off its hanger. His favorite jacket. Walking back into the bathroom with it, she lifts it to her nose and smells it. It still has his scent. Holding the jacket close to her chest, she thinks back over all the times she saw him in this jacket; the cocktail parties they attended, the dates they went on, the business trips she saw him off to. Bringing the razor up to it, she proceeds to shred it, screaming her hatred to the walls before stuffing the shredded pieces into the garbage. A single tear escapes the façade she has built and she quickly wipes it away. Looking at the razor in her hand, her eyes travel up to the pulse on her wrist and she thinks, it would be so easy. Shaking the thought out of her head, a thought she never would have had a year ago, she goes in search of her Giuseppe Zanotti jeweled thong sandals. She has a meeting with a lawyer and she needs to look her best. After finding her shoes, she pulls her dark brown hair up in a loose bun with an off-center part and gets in her car. Giving her best false smile to the closed front door, she leaves. Everything about her is faultless…perfect hair, perfect body, perfect outfit, perfect face. Driving to the office, she keeps her mind blank. She always found as a child that if she did not dwell on the bad things, they did not hurt as much. She got so good at ignoring the bad, though, that she has become almost completely numb to it.
When she gets to the law office, she sits in the car, staring up at the building and dreading going inside. Bringing her eyes back to the entrance, she sees the man from the photo walking in, his arms wrapped around a nineteen-year-old twit he calls his girlfriend, kissing her neck and face. It is too much for her: the photo in the shed, the initials, the baby paraphernalia and all the memories that go with them, and now this. She loses her composure, tears leaking down her face, and the anger that has been lurking below the surface, that made her shred the jacket, made her remove all of his photos, it forces her out of the car and down the street, away from the office building. How dare he bring her, she silently rants. She runs into people, but pays no attention to their indignant cries, being too engrosed in her own thoughts; her overpowering memories and emotions.
When she finally notices that her shoes are making her feet hurt and she has no real idea where she is, she calls a cab and goes back to the house, not caring that her car is still in the parking lot or that she has missed the meeting with the lawyers. He can have whatever he wants, there is nothing left that she is willing to fight for. She has lost the only things that meant anything to her: love, her child, and her ability to bring any more life into the world. Once she enters, she walks up to the master bathroom and begins filling the bathtub with warm water, her mind steeled against further contemplation. Collecting a photo from the bedside table, she stares at it, salty liquid collecting along her bottom lashes before she banishes it and returns to the bathroom with her prize. Removing the razor from the sink, she focuses on her wrists. Perfection is tiring...Perfection doesn't make it stop hurting. After fixing her makeup she steps into the warm water, sitting down in it with her Dolce and Gabbana outfit and her shoes still on, clutching the photo to her chest. Soon, she is turning the water around her red, and she just closes her eyes, her jaded green eyes, and sinks lower in the water, breathing steadily as her soul slips out the back door.
The phones ring echoes through the perfect house an hour later, and the answering machine picks it up, the recording of a happy couple that nobody got around to changing a reminder of what was, of what has been lost. A mans voice fills the stillness, a ghost traveling through wires to haunt her. But she is beyond his grip. His words mean nothing to her now. She doesn't hear the fear in his voice, the waver in his resolve, the sadness at what has happened in so little time; she doesn't hear the voice in the background, the voice that belongs to a youthful replacement, the voice that tells him that he no longer loves the woman with brunette hair and green eyes that he promised forever.
She is found by a stranger, someone who never knew how spirited or content she was at one time in her life. A person that never met her or talked with her to see her as the intelligent, vivacious, compassionate woman she was. She is found by a paramedic that shakes her head when she enters the room, knowing despite her lack of aquaintance with the woman that it is a shame that she is gone. There is no note left to apologize or beg forgivness, she had no one to apologize to or seek forgivness from. She does not explain her actions in words, always having been an 'actions speak louder' kind of person. The EMT would later describe the scene as that of someone finally at peace. She has a small smile on her face, a genuine one, and she is gripping a photograph of a newborn baby to her chest. The police don't find the shed, nor the box of photos. They don't know the why or who. All they see is the flawless façade that has shattered.
Dressed in her white Valentino suit, with her diamond earrings and ever-present sea turtle necklace glinting softly in the light, her funeral is held two days later. People pour into the church to say their goodbyes, seeing for the last time her beautiful face, her brunette hair, and the gentle curve of her lips. The young man from the photos, aged slightly but still just as handsome, sits in the front pew of the church, his new love missing from his side and guilt in his eyes. Trista Hampton-Ricci is buried beside her infant son, who only saw two weeks on this earth before he departed it again, her tombstone witnessing her twenty-six years of life, but not being able to tell the story of a young woman who was worth so much more than what she became.