Why did it always start like this? The late night self-deprecating drivel that filtered through her mind as soon the house was quiet. It was always this way when she had a few moments to herself. It wasn't surprising, she supposed. Several failed relationships and a life-long friendship that had died while in her hands; she could have saved it. She could have saved them all. But no; here she was: a single mother to a five year old, with an ex that paid little to no attention to their daughter. Child Support was another thing entirely. She didn't know why she expected more; she'd always had the worst taste in men. She always thought she could change them, or that maybe just maybe they were better than they truly were. That's what led her here, right?
Twelve years ago, when she was turning eighteen, there would been a choice; an opportunity, a fork in the road. One was the continuation of the path that she'd been on for the past two years; the other was a strange new direction that she had no experience with. One would mean happiness, and one would mean a life of monotony. Love and neglect. She'd made the wrong decision, and she knew it now. She knew it nine years ago; twelve years ago. She knew it as soon as the decision had been made. But it was too late.
Krista shifted her position on her couch; the house was mostly dark except for the one lamp that was turned on in the corner of her lounge. The white light flooded a small circle directly around the floor lamp and illuminated the rest of the room just enough for the young woman to see. In the background her television, long forgotten for the night, remained muted. On the coffee table before her was a half-consumed glass of red wine; a Shiraz. Late at night, when her daughter was put to bed and the day forgotten, the only thing left to keep her sane, was her nightly glass of wine. She wasn't an alcoholic, far from it really, but the wine was a comfort. A friend in the darkness.
Across from her position on the couch stood a small electric wood stove; it heated the lounge and illuminated it without ever growing hot itself. It was a good thing too; Delta Rue liked to touch everything in sight which her Mum told her not to. At least she couldn't be burned by the object. On top of the petite wood stove stood a few picture frames. Mostly they were of Delta Rue, her daughter. Photographs of the giggling little girl littered her mother's home. It was to be expected; the child was Krista's world after her relationship with the child's father fell apart. Thankfully her daughter was too young to remember it; it had been two years earlier when the little girl was barely three years old. But, better a single mother, than a mother and father who were completely unhappy with each other. Still, in the back of Krista's mind, she wondered if that too had been the wrong decision. Delta Rue deserved to have a family; a father who would love her to pieces unlike the one she had. Payton loved Delta Rue, in his own way, but it wasn't the way the child deserved.
Krista shook her head; trying to get those thoughts out of her as she looked at her wood stove and the pictures littering the top of it. She wanted her mind to be blank for just a moment; a moment of peace and quiet. Was it so much to ask for? She certainly had enough deal with the rest of the day. As she concentrated on the nothingness, a restful tranquility settled over her; her eyes searched through the photographs of her precious offspring, and a smile came to her face. But as she gazed lovingly upon the captured images of the giggling child, her eye caught another photograph. It was one she had placed upon her makeshift mantle long before, and promptly forgot about. Peeking through the narrow alleyways between silver plated picture frames was a face. The face. The very face that led her to the situation she was in. It was the face of a young man; a boy. An eighteen year old boy; or at least he'd been eighteen when the photograph was taken. It was years ago now, and the pain had lifted some. Photographed, captured for all eternity in his youth, was someone she'd known once. A lifetime ago. His dark hair, the colour of chocolate, fell in thick loose waves as its fringe all but concealed his right eye. His flesh was pale; despite the sun exposure, he was very much the colour of unlined paper; of the full moon in the sky. His eyes, despite the right one being nearly hidden from view, were a rich, ever changing, hazel. And, his jaw was strong; his face was shaped like a rectangle. The youth's face was, to Krista, one of the most beautiful sights she could lay her eyes upon (second to her child of course), even if the man wasn't conventionally attractive. She'd not realized it then, or perhaps she'd never admitted it to herself.
Catching just a mere glimpse of him through the forest of picture frames, Krista lifted herself from her sofa. She untangle her legs and quietly crossed her lounge. Her white hand moved, careful of the other frames, and plucked his from the forest. Lifting the simple black frame from the top of the wood stove, her hands gently gripped it by both sides; she'd not thought of this photo for some years, not even when she'd moved in and placed him amongst the thicket.
Rupert, forever captured on paper, was laughing with his entire body. Dressed in a pink and black buffalo check shirt, and wearing a waistcoat over it, he didn't match the fashion of the year it was taken (2004). Despite photo being only of him, and him smiling, it was obviously candid; Krista, when she took it, had caught him off guard. The young man could do no more than laugh and smile lovingly for her. Krista squeezed the frame a little tighter, and sighed softly as she hugged it to her chest. Returning to the sofa, she lowered it to her lap.
It was too late to apologise; it had been years since they'd spoken. The last letter she received from him was nine years ago; she'd never opened it. Before that, well, before that it had been an invitation that she'd torn to pieces.
Krista closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Losing herself in memories of years long passed. She'd known Rupert as long as she could remember; she had grown up with him. He'd been her best friend in the entire world since they were children. Somewhere along the line, that ceased to matter.