“Baby?” I can hear the question in his tone as he walks towards me, turning my stool away from the bench top and towards him. He steps in between my legs, his hand lightly on my chin as he turns my head up to meet his gaze.
“Mal…I wouldn’t care if it was just Mum and Dad. Heck, I wouldn’t even care if he was here as long as he hadn’t come back before. I just…I can’t remove the image from my mind.” I place my head in my hands, seeing images flash before my eyes. Axel’s gaze burning into mine with hatred, a broken bottle dripping with blood, my mother’s pained gasp as she limped from room to room after him.
“What happened? Can you…do you want to talk about it?” His voice is soft and coaxing, pulling me from the memories that threaten to take me over. I look up and meet his gaze, his forest green eyes seeming to penetrate deep into my soul. Our heads are a mere five centimeters apart as I take a deep, shaky breath and start. “I was about seven and –“
I’m cut off by the opening of the screen door, and as Malachi moves out of my grip I turn to meet my father’s gaze. I leap off the barstool, running into his embrace as his arms wrap around me. The door opens again and my mother’s familiar perfume wraps into the embrace as a warmth covers me from behind.
“My girl, you need to go out there.” My fathers voice rumbles through my body and I whimper, turning until I can pull out of their embrace enough to look at them both in the eye.
“I can’t, I just cant.” I turn to look into my mothers gaze, resting my hands on her shoulders. “Mum, I can’t look at him and see anything but that bottle, and you…your wrist wrapped in his. I can’t do this.” A choked sound pulls out of my mother’s throat and I realize what I’ve just said, staggering back in shock. Arms come around me once again and I turn into Malachi’s chest as my father comforts my mother. It’s my father’s voice that echoes to me.
“My sweet, sweet girl. This isn’t about him – this is about me and your mother and your sister. Go out there for them, and we’ll ask Axel to find somewhere else to stay if he bothers you that much. But for this moment, I need you to be my strong girl. Do you think you can do that?”
I nod into Malachi’s embrace and feel him kiss my head. My father mumbles about sending Selena back in to help carry the snacks before the kitchen door shuts once again.
I pull out of Malachi’s embrace and turn to grab some snacks, placing them in a bowel as we wait for Selena to join us. When she does, she comes up beside me and helps without question.
“God, that Barry dude seem so sleazy!” She comments softly, nudging me with her shoulder as I smile a little.
“Um, girls, can we do this later? Sorry, but we need to plan what you guys are going to say, because he’s going to ask you where you’ve been.”
“Can’t we just say the truth?” I ask, confusion evident in my tone.
“And say what, Lay? That you’ve been in a cave system for the last month that you willingly walked into? That even though you’ve been gone for a month you’re not malnourished or hurt? Do you think they’ll believe that you were fine and happy?” His statement silences me, and although his tone isn’t judgmental, I still feel tiny. “We need to think this through. Got any ideas?”
The thought of lying to everyone a million times over makes me cringe, and another issue pops into my head. “No, but we need to co-ordinate. I need…” I look down and see my phone on the table, and open up a blank text to Emily. I look up and meet Selena’s gaze.
“How about…a spontaneous trip. We caught the bus and stayed at a motel, where our phones died and we didn’t have a watch? We could have…lost track of time.” Selena shrugs and I get up and grip her in a crushing hug. She laughs but holds me close, leaning in to whisper into my ear. “Lay, we need to talk.”
I pull away and meet her somber gaze, nodding silently before turning back towards Malachi. We all walk together towards the living room and just before we reach the door he grabs me and pulls me close, letting Selena walk past me with the food.
“Don’t forget that my last name is Silvers and that, whatever happens, I’m here.” He looks into my eyes, his bright with sincerity. I nod mutely, not having the words to express how much I need him here. “Good,” he states simply, pulling me into a hug that seems to go on forever, and yet not long enough at all.
We walk into the living room together, holding hands and settling on the same couch as Selena and Faegan. Barry, who had been pacing the length of the room when I walked in, settles in the armchair opposite us. He scratches his head, seeming to contemplate us before opening his mouth.
“We’re going to need to go down to the station.”
“What?” My eyes widen and I grip Malachi’s hand tightly, suddenly feeling the importance of this situation sink into my apparently thick skull. “Can’t we just do it here?”
Barry tries to look sympathetic, but it comes out looking constipated and I fight to hide my giggle. “Unfortunately, no. My partner is waiting outside in the car. We will be as quick as possible, though.”
I nod dejectedly and walk out to the car, followed by Selena, Malachi, and Faegan as we head towards the car. I grimace as I realize that this will be a painfully long ride, and slide into the back seat.
As I get in, a huge grin splits my face as I spot Emily and Dudon already inside the car. A car the size of a limo.
“Oh my god, Em, did you hear?” I whisper-yell as soon as we are driving, hoping the revving engine and the siren will stop our conversation from being overheard. I look to the rear of the car and see four policemen in uniform sitting here and looking over at us.
“The time thing, Em. How weird?” Selena’s voice is a little energised, and the gleam in her eyes conveys her interest in the phenomenon.
“Weird’s not the word I’d use,” Emily mumbles, and I have to concur with her.
“Well, weirddom or not, we need to come up with some more solid details and, by the looks of things, I’d say we have about a minute.” I murmur, looking out the window. As the engine revs loudly and the police officers watch us like a hawk, we brainstorm ideas and construct a solid story.
“Everyone got it?” Emily asks after we’ve drafted out the details. Everyone nods just as we pull up to the station, and a groan tears itself from my throat as I see a barrage of reporters waiting on the steps to the police station. Obviously we’ve become local celebrities in the time we’ve been gone.
“Melayna! Emily! Selena!” They scream our names, hoping we’ll respond. “Where have you been? Who are those guys? Is it true you were kidnapped?” The questions keep coming and flashes of light blind us. “Why didn’t you contact home?” One reporter is so close to my face I can see the stubble on his chin and the sweat dripping from his brow. Gross. I look at Emily and shrug.
“We didn’t contact home because we had no way to.” I try to look nonchalant as I continue to walk and ignore the questions being shouted at me. I breathe out a loud sigh of relief as we enter the police station, the silence ringing in my ears after the shouting we just walked through.
“Hello miss, I’m Michael.” A young police officer walks up to me, holding out his hand for me to shake. “I’m Barry’s partner, an together we’ve been working on your case for the past month or so.” He smiles at me and I immediately warm up to him, feeling infinitely more comfortable with him than I did with Barry.
“Sorry about that.” I shrug sheepishly, feeling a slew of apologies riding up my throat.
“Not to worry about. I’m just going to need you to come through here so we can start questioning you.” His tone is kind and soft and a large part of me hopes that he’s not going to be questioning me, because I highly doubt I’d be able to lie to him convincingly. My gaze twists towards Barry, who appears to be picking his nose, and I quickly decide that I’d much rather Michael interrogate me.
“Questioning?” My voice is meek and terror grips me at the thought of having to go in alone and be interrogated.
“Yep, we’re just going to ask you a few questions, nothing major. It’s all for protocol.” He leads me down a corridor, ignoring my constant shadow that is Malachi. “Just through here.” He sits me down at the table, watching as Malachi takes the seat beside me. There are two sets of papers on the table, and I glance down at it, the writing scrambling my brain.
“I’ll just need you to fill out those forms,” he points at the sheets, handing us each a pen, “and I’ll need to collect your phone and any other communication or recording devices you have on you.” He holds out a box and I gingerly place my phone in it, hoping I’ll remember our story well enough to not mess it up. I watch Malachi place his phone in the container and realize that I didn’t even know he had a phone.
“Great. Now, we’ll start as soon as you’ve filled out those pages.” He walks out of the room, and flicks on a switch by the door. I look around the room and see a camera in the corner, assuming there’s a microphone somewhere near as well.
I turn my attention to the page in front of me, sighing at the dense text.
I, _______________(last name , first name), give consent that this information is my honest account of the incident and has been expressed to the best of my knowledge. I give consent for this statement to be used in a court of law, or any other case where the authorities deem it necessary.
I write my name in the blank, skimming the rest of the text and signing on the line at the bottom of the page, dating it and moving onto the next page. The next page is a lined document with two simple words foregrounding the page. Written Statement. I stare at the page and gulp, my hand shaking as I press the pen to the top of the first line – what do they even want me to write? Heck, why do I even have to write this? Who committed a crime?
“Knock, knock. How you guys doing?” Michael walks in, glancing over my shoulder and seeing the blank page in front of me. “Oh, you don’t need to fill that one in if you don’t want. We can just record our conversation instead, and you’ll get a copy of the tape. How does that sound?” I nod eagerly and he smiles at me, taking the forms I’ve filled out and leaving the room. Once he’s gone I look over at Malachi, smiling as I hear more footsteps approaching the room.
I turn towards the door and the smile drops from my face as Barry’s face comes into view. He opens his mouth, saying words that will soon become the bane of my existence. “I need him to go.” HE points at Malachi, tacking a glare on the end of his sentence. “He can go to the other room and talk to Michael.”
He dismisses Malachi with a single glance, turning his full attention towards me. Malachi sends a helpless glance my way, reaching out to squeeze my hand before slowly making his way to the other room.
“Now, Miss Blanc-“
“Gregory. I take my father’s name and will have no part of anything connected to Axel.”
He nods and scribbles something down on a piece of paper, obviously ready to start his interrogation.
“So where were you this past month?”
“I was with my sister, Selena, and our friend Emily Preston.” He nods again, scribbling more on his page. Illegibly, from what I can see.
“Alright, so where were you and your friends?”
“We went on an impromptu road trip.”
“A road trip?” He looks up from his page with wide eyes, apparently not expecting that answer.
“Yes, a road trip.”
“A road trip.” He murmurs as he scribbles some more. I start to question if he’s just scribbling for the sake of scribbling and if, at the end of this conversation, he’ll give me a scribble picture and expect me to treasure it.
“Where did you go?’
North! I remember exclaiming to Selena and Emily when the question was brought up on the way here.
“Well, we caught a bus up north somewhere.”
He scribbles some more.
“Why a bus?” He asks, curiosity evident in his tone.
“Uhm…well…” I stall, “we hadn’t really planned on going anywhere and we weren’t sure where we were going so we decided a bus was easier – and there was less chance we would get lost.”
He scribbles some more, and the sound of the pen scratching the paper is annoying me so much that I’m tempted to rip the pen out of his hand and tell him to pay more attention to me and less to his paper
“So, where exactly did you go?”
“We didn’t pay attention. We wanted to go somewhere remote, so we took a bus somewhere with a name we didn’t know and got off at a remote stop.”
“Do you have your bus ticket?”
“No, we left them on the bus.”
“Why didn’t you contact home?”
“Our phones died and we used all the money we had for food and a motel.”
I start to question whether these quick-fire questions are better or worse than his intermittent scribbling.
Definitely the scribbling.
“So, who is he?” He points towards the door, and a quick glance shows Axel loitering in the hallway.
“Axel? He’s my sperm donor.”
“No, the –“ He stops as my comment sinks in, turning his head to the side and glancing at me in confusion. That’s what happens when you don’t press charges, says an evil little voice inside my head.
“Oh you mean Mal?” Met on the bus! That was Emily’s genius idea, and gievs me an opportunity to move pass this awkward moment. “That’s Malachi Silvers. We met him on the bus,” I say smoothly, watching Barry scramble to regain his thoughts.
“So, tell me more about how you met.”
I shrug, not sure how much information I can give on the boys, or even if I should. I don’t even know if they’re in the police database or anything.
“We met on the bus on the way there – they were also going on a road trip. We got off the bus and so did they. Later, we bumped into them in our motel lobby. And then at the restaurant down the street. And then out and about. We started talking and…well, yeah.”
I watch the pen, constructing elaborate murder plans in my mind.
“When you say ‘we’ who do you mean?”
I watch his eyes settle on me, his pen poised above the paper as if waiting for me to slip up, to say something wrong, to fall into his trap.
“I mean me, Selena, Emily, and Malachi and his friends; Dudon and Faegan.”
He scribbles, but it’s slower and slightly defeated-looking.
“How much time did you spend with these men?”
“Quite a bit.” I shrug, unsure what this has to do with my ‘disappearance.’
“Did they tell you anything about themselves or their lives?”
I contemplate that for a moment, stalling as much as I can.
“Like what?” His tone is frustrated and I suppress a smile at his obvious annoyance.
“Well, where they were from and their family histories. It’s a really long story.” I say, thinking how true that actually is, which then leads to thoughts of where I would be committed if I told them what Malachi had told me. Oh, and that I’m a part of it. Yeah, I can’t see that going down too well.
My memories bring me out of my vivid murder plan for his blue biro and I hear Selena’s voice in my head. We caught the bus and then walked to the car. Selena had offered when we asked how we got home.
“So, how did you get home? Did you catch the bus again?”
“We caught the bus back to the edge of town and then walked to the car. We had parked it near our favourite park which was relatively close to the us stop.”
But why did we take so long? Emily had asked.
“Which number bus?”
“Uh…I don’t remember.”
He closes his eyes and rubs the bridge of his nose.
We lost track of time – it’s easy to do when you’re not counting. I had replied
“Why did you spend so long there?”
“Well, we didn’t really know how long it had been. We didn’t have watches and when you’re away from work and school it’s hard to tell one day from the next. We were staying in some little backwater town so the motel was day-by-day and we didn’t really think to keep track. We only thought we were gone for about a week and I was shocked when I learned it’d been a month.”
He nods and scribbles, and I’ve just about had enough of this disgusting man called Barry.
“Just one more question. How well do you really know Malachi?” This question stumps me, especially when combined with his harsh tone of voice and I don’t manage to squeeze out an answer before he gets up and leaves. I stay seated in the hard plastic chair, wondering what just happened and what I’ve gotten myself into.
I look back over my shoulder and see Barry talking to Melayna and then writing things down. I long to go and remove her from his reach, but instead walk into the room opposite where Michael waits for me.
“Take a seat, uh…”
“Malachi.” I fill in before settling into the hard plastic chairs they provide for the interrogated. I grimace in discomfort and see Michael’s sympathetic smile.
“Malachi. Sorry about the crappy chairs, I know they’re horrible.”
“It’s okay.” I smile at him, liking him a lot more than Barry, but seriously wishing it was Barry interrogating me. If Melayna gets mad at Barry and does anything dramatic, she could be arrested. My gaze moves towards the door and Michael notices my waning attention. He stands up and shuts the door before returning to his much comfier seat.
“Don’t worry about your girlfriend, this is just protocol for her. She’ll be fine.” I startle at the world girlfriend, unused to hearing it said in relation to me.
“It’s not her I’m worried about.” I mumble, just loud enough for Michael to hear. He laughs and I turn to look back at him, focusing my attention on him rather than Melayna.
“So, where are you from?” Michael is looking at the stack of papers in his hand and talking very casually, trying to get me to feel comfortable and open up. It’s a technique I’ve used often.
“Just south a bit. Ever heard of Samonetta?”
“Oh yeah, man! The surf’s great down there!” He smiles at me, grinning from ear to ear.
“Yeah, well I’m from there. Me and my friends, Dudon and Faegan.” I gesture out the door and he nods.
“So how’d you meat the girls?”
“Well, we decided to go on a road trip. None of us have cars, though, so we waved our parents off and jumped on a random bus. It was pretty empty, actually.” He’s nodding along, looking interested. “So when the girls got on, we immediately wanted to talk to them. I mean, they’re gorgeous, Who wouldn’t?” He laughs and I smile, enjoying how easy it is to tell this story. “So when they got off, so did we. We didn’t have a place in mind so why not hang out with them for a bit? We all ended up staying in the same motel, and kept bumping into each other. And from there, well…”
“The rest is history.” Michael finishes, writing something on his paper.
“Exactly.” I smile, thinking it’s all over.
“So, have you contacted your parents?”
“I…what?” I’m taken aback by his question and I stare at him dumbfounded. Michael just sits there, smiling at me. “Oh, no. Our parents are all good friends and went on a holiday together a few days after we left. They probably wont get back for another month or so, and while they’re away they’re not contactable.” He nods and writes something down.
“Can I go now?” I ask, eager to leave this place and get up off this crappy chair.
“What? But I thought you said we had nothing to worry about; that this was just protocol.”
“I said the girls have nothing to worry about. The girls aren’t suspicious at all. They have a good reputation and their parents believe they wouldn’t leave and not contact them. Then, the return after a month of no contact with three boys no one has ever seen before. Sound suspicious to you? Well, it does to us.”
I stare at him for a moment before it sinks in. “You mean…you think me and my friends kidnapped them?” He doesn’t confirm or deny it, telling me that’s what they think. “So then what happens?” He shuffles the papers around in his hands before continuing.
“At the moment, nothing. We ask you all a few questions, you go home tonight while we compare notes and see what we get. A full investigation will be done on you and your friends, as well as the buses and anything else, and if we find no hard evidence then you’ll be fine. If we find any signs of violence, or a struggle, or blackmail, however, then you will be taken into police custody and further action will be taken.
I continue to stare at him in disbelief, wondering how this man, who seems so nice and a good judge of character, could’ve totally misjudged the situation. He half-smiles at me, and then Barry walks in.
“Anything?” He asks, and his gruff voice makes me want to rip his head from his body.
“Nothing.” Michael says, getting up from his desk and walking out of the room. He stops in the doorway and turns back to look at me. “You can go, but be warned – we’re watching you. Anything you do or say can be held against you.” His eyes bore into mine and once I nod he leaves.
I walk out of the room and straight into the room that Melayna was in before. As I enter I see her sitting at the table, staring straight ahead. I approach her from behind, wrapping my arms around her neck and placing my chin on top of her head.
“Hey gorgeous, how are you going?”
Melayna doesn’t respond verbally, rather leaning her head against my chest and closing her eyes. As her head touches my chest our connection flares to life within me and her exhaustion and misery swamps me.
“Alright, gorgeous. Let’s get you home.” I reach down and pull her into my arms, intending to walk her towards the door until I feel her refuse to take her own weight. “Hey, what’s going on?” I leave her in the circle of her arms and squeeze her a little tighter, feeling her arms join together tightly around my waist. I stand there in silence, in the interrogation room, swaying us softly and hearing her ragged breath in my ear as she tries to compose herself. “Shh, it’s okay to cry,” I softly mumble into her hair.
“No, it’s not!” She wails, choking down a sob and burying her face in my chest once again. “It’s not okay to cry over what a stupid man says, no matter if he’s an officer or not. It’s not okay to cry over something I can’t change. And it’s definitely not okay to cry about him thinking something incorrect.”
I pause for a few seconds, trying to gather my thoughts and work out what’s going on. “Well I personally disagree – it’s okay to cry about whatever you’re upset about. No one, and I mean absolutely no one can invalidate your emotions or tell you not to feel something. Baby, feel whatever you want to feel and then we will work it out together – never hold it in. Tell me, what’s wrong?” As I talked I moved to sit in the plastic chair, settling her on my lap and keeping my arms wrapped firmly around her as I pull away to look into her eyes.
“I…I’m crying for a lot of reasons,” She says absently, looking at the door. “I’m crying because I was gone for a month. It’s stupid because it’s just a month, but I feel like I’ve been deprived of something. I don’t know, it’s just stupid.” She looks down at her moving thumbs, her tears having calmed down to merely the occasional sniffle.
“No. No, it’s okay to cry about that. I…it’s hard, especially for us, because time is so unpredictable. For me…time is never something I could rely on because with the involvement with The Else, um…the supernatural world, time is unpredictable. But you did have something taken from you, and it shows a lot about you that you care so much about this lost time.” I try to soothe her and explain at the same time.
“Yeah? Like what?” There’s less challenge in her voice and more interest. I quickly wrack my brain to explain to her how caring is…exactly that. Caring.
“Well, it shows that you value what you have. You don’t take days for granted, even when they’re all the same. And I think you’re also crying for the loss your parents went through, and that says so much about you as well.” She nods and I let out a mental sigh of relief, hoping she can see sincerity in my gaze. “Is that all you were crying about?”
She shakes her head and I wait for her to talk, hoping I can comfort her in regards to this matter as well. Seeing her in tears has me torn between feeling her sorrow and feeling fiery hot rage against whomever it was that made her cry. Currently the sorrow outweighs the anger and I long to just soak up her sadness so she never has to feel a tinge of it ever again.
“He…Barry, well, he asked me how well I really know you.” I just blink a couple times, trying to sort this out in my head. By the time I’ve comprehended her statement she’s already talking again. “And the thing is, I know I lo-“ she backtracks “trust you and everything, but I don’t know anything. I don’t know your favourite colour or your favourite band. I don’t know where you grew up, or who your family is. I don’t know –“
“Red.” I interrupt her.
“What?” She scrunches up her face in confusion and I smile at how cute it makes her look.
“You didn’t know what my favourite colour is. Now you do – red.” She doesn’t speak and I smile at her, taking her hands in mine. “I want to tell you these things, and I will, but contrary to their belief we’ve only known each other for about eight hours. I hope that, in a month’s time, there will be nothing you don’t know about me. Nothing. And that I, too, will know everything about you. Alright?”
She nods and swipes her hand across her cheek, wiping away the last evidence of her tears. We turn together and head for the door until she tugs on my hand, pulling me to a stop. “Mine’s purple. And thank you, I don’t think anyone’s ever calmed me down like you just did. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” There is sincerity present in her gaze and I just nod and squeeze her hand, my throat thickening with emotion.
We walk out of the room and enter the small waiting area where I immediately spot Melayna’s parents and Axel sitting in the same hard plastic chairs we just vacated with Selena and Faegan sitting next to them. Once we enter the room there is an immediate flurry of noise as the three of them stand up, taking a single step towards us almost in synchronization. Melayna squeezes my hand and moves towards Selena, Faegan and her father, brushing off her mother and Axel. I let her move forwards without me, taking a moment to scan the room and see Emily and Dudon with a couple who I assume are Emily’s parents. I start to make my way towards Melayna when I’m intercepted.
“Hi, I don’t believe we’ve been formally introduced.” Melayna’s mother is smiling tightly, her suspicion obvious. “You met my husband, Andrew, back at my house,” she gestures towards the group I was heading towards, “and I think you’ve met Melayna’s father, Axel.” She gestures to her side, where Axel steps forward and holds out a hand to me. Axel’s gaze rakes down my body with equal amounts of suspicion and I absently wonder if the police filled them in on their suspicions.
What?! The thought flows freely into my mind from Melayna and I inwardly cringe.
Whoops. I think back, hoping to deflect.
Explain. Now. She turns around to give me a glare from behind her mother and I continue to smile politely, ignoring her gaze.
I don’t have time. Later, I promise.
You better, she grumbles back.
“I’m Jenna Gregory, Melayna’s mother. And you are…”
“I’m Malachi. Malachi Silvers.” I carefully extend my magic to feel if she has any, and when I find none I shake her hand. She smiles tightly at me, neither saying anything nor walking away. Axel takes a step closer to her, his hand coming to rest lightly on her shoulder. I feel Melayna’s disgust, confusion, and hurt as clearly as if they were my own and quickly excuse myself, walking towards her and wrapping my arms around her as she melts into the comfort of my body.
“So both Faegan and Malachi come from…” Selena’s voice becomes an indistinct blur in my mind as I focus my attention on the girl in my arms, ignoring the flailing arms of her speaking sister. Melayna has folded herself into my body, relaxing and removing herself from the conversation as Jenna and Axel join in to listen to Selena’s explanation. Andrew seems to be nodding along, his eyes loosing more and more of the hard gleam as she speaks. Melayna’s head turns away from the group, trailing lazily across the room until she spots the other group gathered here.
“Mrs. P! Mr. P!” Melayna tears herself out of my arms, running over to hug the people that I assume are Emily’s parents. “It’s been forever, how are you guys?” Jenna’s eyes are fastened on her daughter, softening in confusion and hurt as she watches her interact with Emily’s parents.
“All the better now that you girls are back.” Emily’s father’s voice is choked, and Melayna appears to tear up as well. I take a step closer, leaving Selena to continue talking as I walk towards Melayna. “Does your family and your friends want to come over for lunch?” Emily’s father gestures at me just as I rest my arm on Melayna’s shoulder, causing a blush to spread lightly across her cheeks.
“I’m sure we’d all love to,” Melayna smiles hugely at him, giving him one last hug before walking towards Emily and her mother.
“So, who are you, son?” I smile at the man’s light-hearted manner – much more welcoming than the semi-interrogation by Axel and Jenna.
“I’m Malachi, but you can call me Mal.”
“Well, I’m Mr. P and that over there is my Mrs. P.” He smiles at his wife and her eyes fill with love over Melayna’s shoulder. “Now it’s a bit of a joke around here calling us Mr. and Mrs. P, because our last name is Preston and P sounds like T, you know what I mean?”
I laugh at his cheeky grin, understanding the reference perfectly, but the room goes silent as a door slams. Everyone’s eyes turn to where Jenna and Axel were just a moment ago.
I stare at the space my mother just occupied, wanting to run after her and have her hold me as I cry on her shoulder but the betrayal is still too fresh, the knife still too sharp, for me to forgive her. I plaster a fake smile on my face and move out of Mrs. P’s embrace, walking towards Malachi and gripping his hand tightly, my facial muscles tight with tension as I turn back to the multitude of faces staring at me with concern.
“Relax, guys. It’s okay.” I attempt to relieve the tension with a smile feels as fake as the plastic flowers placed on tables during low budget fancy events. Everyone half-nods, coming together in the middle of the room in one big conversation, making jokes and trying to include me. I stand there quietly, laughing when obligated and trying to quiet the voices screaming inside my head.
I lean into Malachi’s chest, resting my whole body weight against him as his arms come down to circle me. He laughs and I feel it resonate throughout my body, making me tingle with the knowledge of how close he is. The corners of my lips lift up, and I focus on him rather than on her, or the lack thereof. My father smiles at me gently, his eyes full of all the love my mother didn’t give me today.
“Boy, do you have a sense of humour!” Mr. P guffaws at Malachi, and I smile at the camaraderie. “Our Lay sure does know how to pick a guy, doesn’t she?” Mr. P smiles at me as I groan, mentally going through my list of past dates - something I will never live down.
“It’s not my fault Sel always drags me along to be her double!” I protest, smiling as Selena perks up at her name.
“You can only use that excuse for one date, what about all the rest?” Selena smirks, before gripping me in a hug and pulling me out of Malachi’s reach. “So, we’re all going to lunch right?” She implores, looking hopeful.
“Everyone is coming to our house,” Mrs. P adds again, putting an arm around each of our shoulders. “I’m making your favourites!”
“Oh, yay! Thanks Mrs. P!” Selena leans over and kisses her on the cheek and I roll my eyes at her display. Mrs. P just smiles kindly at her and pats her on the shoulder, looking over to Emily who’s also rolling her eyes, before Emily approaches and pulls me into a hug.
“This is so messed up,” she whispers into my ear as she grips me tightly to her, squeezing the life out of me.
“I know, it’s all so surreal.” I agree, squeezing her back before we pull apart. I smile at Dudon and wave at him rather than pulling him into a hug as he mock salutes me, making me laugh. I feel Malachi’s presence behind me and grab hold of his hand, focusing on opening the link between us.
She’s doing so well – it’s inspiring. She’s so cautious and easy to adapt, she’ll fit in perfectly. And she’s mine. I still can’t believe it.
I look up into his face and see that he’s unaware that I’m in his mind, so I continue to stay there, listening attentively.
This thing with her mother is worrying, his brow crinkles in a frown, but I’m going to assume there’s something there. I trust her, more than I’ve trusted anyone else, and together we’ll get through anything, I know we can. He looks determined and I smile at his thoughts, squeezing his hand and drawing his attention to me and my thoughts. He blushes furiously and I giggle, walking over to my father and wrapping myself up in his arms.
“Hey, baby girl.” I squeeze my eyes shut as I let his soft whisper and familiar smell wrap me up in comfort. I feel tears building up behind my closed eyelids and sniff softly, trying to hold everything back.
“Hey, daddy.” I whisper, my voice breaking a little. He pushes me away ever so slightly, just so he can see my face, and as my eyes open a single tear drips down my face.
“It’s going to be okay, Lay. She’ll come around and everything will come back to normal. Give her time.” He whispers into my ear. I nod and lean in for one more hug, squeezing him tight and composing myself before I pull away, walking over to where Malachi has joined Selena and Faegan. My walls are coming down, fast, and I don’t know what’s going to happen when they do.