Ninety-three days before
Nobody tells you about the transition from high school to university. They call your name, give you your diploma, shake your hand, and send you into the world with oh so little knowledge. The three years spent in high school were supposed to prepare me for my final quest at university, so why didn’t I feel the least bit calm about moving on to the next chapter of my life?
“I can feel your brain grinding and I can’t even see you. Stop thinking about the horrors of university, take a seat, and grab a beer! Or… have you had enough for a lifetime?” Fiona said teasingly. It’d only been a couple hours since the graduation ceremony, and only an hour since we were on a pickup crammed with sixty, sweaty, drenched-in-beer people with bad music blasting from the front for about two hours. It was an experience to say the least – but it’s the strangest ritual I’ve ever seen. The ritual itself is supposed to symbolize the transition from childhood to adulthood since you either work or go on to university and get a useless degree. But for the most of us it wasn’t about the transition; it was about getting through a hellhole and then having the freedom to choose. The freedom to navigate our own lives without a parent looking over our shoulder.
“Zoe, jump in the shower. I know your hair still looks perfect but you reek girl. Guests will be coming soon.” Fiona yelled as she simultaneously did her make up, “Don’t forget to shave your legs, can’t have the boys looking away tonight.” Fi was probably the sweetest person I’d met in a long time and if circumstances were different I probably would’ve fallen for her. Hard. But I couldn’t think about that, not when I had him.
As I walked towards the shower I walked through the long hall, with absolutely no trace of family photos or post-its with small reminders of who does the chores today, and it was almost saddening how the walls were so empty. Almost like a canvas with no specks of paint even after the artist painted their heart out.
The shower was just what was needed and made me smell like less of an alcoholic. It took about three times of rinse and repeating before the beer remains actually left my hair and slipped through the drain. I should’ve felt clean after the shower but for some reason I still felt dirty. Contaminated. Filthy. No matter how much I scrubbed there was this nagging feeling in the back of my head that would not let go. Was this how transition was supposed to feel? Feeling your greasy skin shed right before your new coating shows up and replaces the old? In that case I really didn’t want to transition. I wanted to stay right here, in this moment where I was a newly graduated student from a prestigious high school. Someone who made it out on top of the world instead of someone at the bottom of the food chain going in.
“Hey Fi, could you bring me my make up bag?” I yelled from inside the shower but there was no reply. She’d probably gone out to get groceries or gone to see her mysterious new boyfriend. Either way – I wasn’t going to get my make up bag or my clothes anytime soon. As I walked towards the guest room in a towel, which barely covered my body, I encountered Fi’s brother – otherwise known as Admiral Hottie.
“Hey Zo, didn’t know you were here… Hey, would you mind, I don’t know, maybe getting a shirt or something ’cause that towel sure ain’t doing your body any good,” he said, his gaze turned away and it wasn’t until I looked down myself and noticed that I was having a nip slip.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry Julian! I didn’t mean to… Gah. I gotta put towels on the endless list of things to buy before university starts,” I said as I ran to the guest room to get an oversized shirt.
“It’s cool, nothing I haven’t seen before,” he said as he threw one of his dazzling smiles at me.
“I was eight then, not eighteen and with… You know, woman parts,” I said with a shy smile and then we both burst out laughing because what I’d said was just so hilarious. Having known someone for ages doesn’t mean you want to see every part of them, and I sure as hell didn’t want Julian to see my lady parts so exposed. Not like this and not now.
“Glad to see high school didn’t change you for the worse, still the same Zo. Sweet,” He said with a grin on his face. I felt my entire face flush and in order for that to stop I had to divert the conversation elsewhere.
“Thanks, how long are you gonna be in town this time?”
“Think I might stay a while. Keep you company over the summer. Keep you out of trouble.”
“Oh please do!” I said laughing.
“What are your plans for the fall? Still wanna see the world?”
“Meh. Applied to some colleges, let’s see.”
“You really don’t take a break, do you?”
“That’s not the way I was raised.”
“True. I gotta jump in the shower real quick and then I’ll head out to meet some friends. See you later?”
“I’ll be here all summer, can’t miss me,” I said as I walked into Fi’s room to get some make up from her nightstand. She had everything there, from mascaras to books – one chaotic nightstand indeed. In the midst of the clutter of books, nail polish, and English papers I found her favorite lipstick and decided against all better judgement to use it. She’d kill me in normal circumstances but today was special. In only a few minutes family and friends would come over to celebrate my graduation. They would celebrate my special day. But the entire thing saddened me because my only wish was that he could be here to celebrate with me, however, the Gods decided against it. Like they did with most things concerning him.
The guests rolled into Julian’s tiny little apartment complex one by one and each greeted me with kind “Congratulations!” and “I’m so proud of you!” They each brought some tiny form of gift (which I really didn’t ask for but the thought is sweet) and I rewarded their generosity with amazing Thai food, which had been catered from around the corner. I was at the heart of a crowd full of people who loved me and yet I felt like a fish in fishbowl – open to the public and soon to be criticized. But maybe I only felt like a fish in a fishbowl because my parents had walked in and there does not go one day where they don’t tell me something that upsets me.
“Hey sweetie, nice gathering you’ve got here,” my mother said with a smile on her face, “although, maybe you should rethink the table cloth. It looks a little tacky from where I am standing.”
“I’ll think about it,” I said with very little emotion, “Grab something to eat. Socialize. Tell everyone about what a big success I am for graduating.”
“Oh sweetie, we don’t have to tell them. They already know,” My father rebutted with a grin on his face. My father had never shown much appreciation for me or acknowledged much of what I have done, so to hear this from his was heartwarming.
After a couple more minutes of awkward chitchatting with the folks about summer and university my mother finally said, “It’s a shame Keira couldn’t be here. I’m so sorry honey. You must really miss her today.”
“Darling, I thought we weren’t going to bring her up today?” my father replied quietly to my mother.
“Can we not talk about her? Not now at least. I’d like to go one day without thinking about her,” I said furiously. Talking about Keira would do no good. She wouldn’t come back to me no matter how many letters or e-mails I wrote. She’d disappeared.
“Okay. Try and enjoy yourself honey. You know, YOLO and all that stuff. Ta-ta!” And with that my mother grabbed my father by the elbow and wobbled away in her brand new heels. They seemed like decent people, my parents, but if you’d stood where I did then you wouldn’t think so. The truth is always more unattractive than the façade we choose to put up.
It only took a couple of hours before some real people showed up. The real people being my classmates; people who’d been through the same thing as I had today – joy, sadness, and being drenched in beer all at the same time.
“Heeeeey girl! Congrats to us! Can’t wait to hit the club tonight,” Isabelle said, “my booze still in the fridge?”
“Only had a bit after I got home today,” I said. She winked at me and grabbed my hand as she scurried away to the kitchen for a little afternoon gossip and drink. Don’t get me wrong, Isabelle wasn’t a drunk or anything, she’d just turned twenty, and that meant that she could go to the liquor store and finally buy booze for us without anyone frowning at her. So she bought a little booze every now and then and for the most part we never finished it, and thus there’d been the tendency to have leftover alcohol in the refrigerator.
“You think this looks good for the club?” Isabelle said as she poured us some white wine, “I was going for the ‘I’m-single-but-not-slutty’ look, did I pull it off?” What one has to need about Isabelle: She’s drop dead gorgeous. That’s it. There is no denying her beauty. You could see her right after she’s woken up and still think she’s the most gorgeous person alive. With her blonde, curly hair in a loose bun and a navy blue jumpsuit attached to her petite - one hundred and fifty seven centimeters - tall body she looked like she’d jumped straight out of an ad for Lancôme.
“I think you look like a total slut,” I said sarcastically and quickly added whilst pointing to myself, “I don’t know how we will fix this mess of mine though…”
“What are you talking about? You’re beautiful,” She said with a stern face. Beautiful is the word she used to describe me but it was not accurate. The word most people use to describe me: cute, adorable, pretty, tiny fluff ball. But beautiful was never on that list of words. My hair was never in tact and always looked paper flat even though I did my best to curl it, I had no curves whatsoever, and my body was too compact since I never grew taller than one hundred and forty-seven centimeters. Beautiful was not a word to describe this mess we called Zoe ‘the tiny one’ Bunker.
“Have you seen your gluteus maximus? ’Cause that’s one fine gluteus maximus.”
“Do you have to call my butt gluteus maximus? You make it seem… Extraordinary. Which it totally isn’t.”
“Aha… I’m not the one with the boyfriend whose hand always seems to have a hold on that gluteus maximus of yours,” Isabelle said mockingly, “Is he coming out with us tonight?”
“Can’t. Too young, remember?”
“You’re such a cougar Zo, you know that right?”
“Are too! If he’s not on the clock then he shouldn’t be using his co—“
“I urge you to stop. Do not say anything more. Please. And he’s on the clock. He’s just eleven months younger than me,” I said and with a smirk on my face I added, “You know who’s not on the clock? You! Cause you’re growing old girl.” And after saying that she threw plastic spoon in my direction and nearly hit my right eye but that was all right because I knew she’d never be able to hurt me. At most it would sting for a little while and she’d apologize vigorously and it’d all be okay again.
“I’m just gonna call boyfriend real quick, kay?”
“Tell lover boy I say hi,” And with that she left the kitchen. Tyler picked up on the third dial and hearing his voice immediately made me feel safe in my heart. The kind of feeling you got as a kid when you got hurt and then cried only to see mommy running furiously towards you in an attempt of comfort. Safe. That’s what home felt like, and that’s what he felt like.
“Miss me already?”
“Every second of every day”
“How’s the party?”
“Same old, same old. People gathering around me, telling me I’m a beautiful young girl with a bright future ahead of me,” I said and as those words left my mouth I realized that I sounded ridiculously ungrateful and to turn it around I asked, “How’s apartment hunting going?”
“Meh, we haven’t started quite yet. Trying to fix all the papers for med school first,” Tyler was a genius. He was named the class ‘Covert Try-Hard’ and he did earn that title. Somehow he always got good grades even though he didn’t study as much as anybody else and never did he seem like he was trying any hard in class so he must’ve done something right to get into med school on his own merits.
“Isabelle says hi btw.”
“Tell her hi right back when you go back to the party. Which should be right about now.”
“Fiiiine. I love you, will text you when I get home from the club.”
“Don’t do anything bad, I love you too honey,” And with that the phone call was over. It might not have seemed like the most affectionate of relationships but it was just the kind of relationship I needed – one that didn’t require a lot of words. A relationship that hadn’t needed unnecessary emoticons to fill the void of a text message when it got the least bit uncomfortable (probably because it didn’t feel uncomfortable with him). The relationship with Tyler was stable, going on almost two years, happy and safe – everything that I needed in my life.
After leaving those thoughts about Tyler in the kitchen I went to my classmates to play a game of slightly buzzed charades whilst the grown ups were enjoying what was left of the graduation cake my parents had gotten me. The people in the room looked like they were enjoying themselves, so why couldn’t I shake the feeling that something was off? Kids were laughing and playing, grown ups were gossiping in their own little way and us teens were on top of the world – everything was exactly where it was supposed to be. But then it hit me that nobody had remembered her. Or, my mother had but I had shrugged it off because I didn’t think she should be remembered. Not after what she did.
“Hey everyone,” I shouted to gather everybody’s attention, “I want to raise a glass. To me. My friends. And Keira.” I wouldn’t be lying if I said the room didn’t fall silent when I said her name. Keira. Keer-a. Keira was a forbidden word for most people and on most days even I don’t want to hear her name but it didn’t feel right to not include her in something she should’ve been apart of.
After some silence Fi, who had apparently snuck in without a word, raised her glass and said, “To Keira, may she be remembered for who she was and not her mistakes,” and like clockwork other people joined in with their glasses.
“To Keira, a girl who radiated outwards with her beauty,” said Isabelle.
“To Keira, a girl who never ceased to amaze,” said my mother.
“To Keira, a girl with a beautiful set of books,” said my father, which got the entire room to crack up. Which was good because laughter in the midst of the remembrance was necessary. Having had her off my chest; the room felt lighter. It felt good to no longer be in the fishbowl because now I wasn’t the one there – Keira was, and I don’t think she minded it, she always did like all eyes on her.
As I walked past the crowd in an attempt to reach the guest room I walked straight into Julian and you wouldn’t have thought that a human body could hurt your head that much but I guess you never took into account his rock hard abs and pecks.
“Ouch!” I said out loud as I tried to rub off the pain of my forehead, “Sorry I walked into you Julian, I wasn’t really paying attention…”
“That’s cool Zoe, didn’t feel a thing,” He said with a shy smile.
“I felt everything,” and after a smile from my part we both burst out laughing, “I think you have to stop working out.”
“Pfft, never,” he said as he kissed his biceps to mock me, “anyways, I was actually looking for you.”
“Yeah. I just wanted to thank you for what you said about Keira. I know that if she could, she’d be here to celebrate you.”
“Thanks. She was a huge part of my journey. She had to be acknowledged,” With that said we parted ways because we were both getting too close for comfort. Keira was a touchy subject and most people knew not to bring her up unless they wanted to see me in tears but somehow it was okay with Julian. Because when he talked about her it wasn’t about how she was a good student or how she placed first in most spelling bees. When Julian talked about her… his eyes radiated because he recalled the many times Keira had taken her time to pick out the birthday gift for her loved ones, or how she wouldn’t smoke unless it was lit with her favorite magenta lighter, how she wore very little make up and still looked beautiful, how she always raged at everyone when playing Uno – he remembered her for her, not for someone everyone who didn’t know her made her out to be.
It was 21:53 and guests had started shuffling out one by one, leaving by hugging me and wishing me well with whichever path I choose. However, most of the teens insisted on staying behind and playing charades so that is what we did for about an hour. And during that hour, in my tipsy state, I almost felt invincible. I had heard the statement that teenagers are invincible but until you really experience it I don’t think you know just how right the statement is. In that moment I felt like I could do anything – learn everything, experience everything, live through the hardships that life would hand me – I was on a Ferris wheel that stayed at the top forever.
The Ferris wheel I was on stayed on top for a long while. Being at the club and seeing most of the graduates felt incredible. Even though most of us had never spoken to one another it still felt like we had a bond, and in a way we did, because we graduated. We lived. We survived the terrors of high school. And now we were here dancing and drinking like we were on top of the world.
I wasn’t much of a dancer because I honestly didn’t understand how to dance. How do you get your feet to sync with your hands? And how do you know how to dance to each song? Do you dance the same dance if the song is in the same beat as the previous song but still somehow different? There were too many questions to be answered and nobody could really answer them. Even though I had YouTubed ‘’How To Dance At The Club’’ I still could not figure it out. But for some reason, when Isabelle dragged me out to the dance floor, I still danced with her and some other friends like I knew exactly how to dance. We danced for what felt like forever (but maybe it only felt like forever because dancing wasn’t my thing) and after a while I drifted off to the bar with Isabelle.
“What do you want? It’s on me,” she said. Isabelle had the tendency to offer buying me drinks and I felt really guilty about that but she was my friend. And besides, we always broke even somehow.
“Beer thanks. Smoke after?”
“Sure,” Isabelle said as she paid and handed me a cold beer, “You know he’s checking you out right?”
“Who?” I said as I looked around the club for a staring guy.
“Alex, who else?” she said as she discretely viewed his way, “He’s been after you since that day we were making the banners.” Alex was in Isabelle’s class and for the most part we hadn’t spoken. We’d been at the same parties and spoken once or twice in psychology but I could never be interested in him.
“I’m taken, remember?”
“You better tell him that, I don’t think he got the memo,” she said as she gulped down her drink and signaled Alex to come over.
“What are you doing? I don’t want to talk to him,” I said frantically.
“Relax. You know I wouldn’t hurt Tyler in any way. Just wanna talk to the guy.” And just like he knew we were done talking about him, he had showed up next to us. I didn’t talk much, I mostly let Isabelle do the talking, and she was better at that anyways. She had a way with words, a way that I hadn’t mastered because I did my best not to talk. Maybe it was because people didn’t understand my thought process or because I was afraid of rejection – either way, it wasn’t my thing. After some awkward small talk and Alex commenting on how well my slim fit, black, lace dress went together with my blue, checkered sneakers I had decided to check out the club to have a smoke.
Isabelle joined me too (mainly cause she had the cigarettes) and we lit up close to the entrance. It was one of those nights where you didn’t care about who saw you smoking because people were too drunk to remember and we wouldn’t see most of them anytime soon anyways. We’d bought Camel Activate and the minty taste had gone well with the chill summer night. There had always been something soothing about watching drunken people interact with one another. The words were always more honest, decisions were made, and the world felt lighter. It was like watching a movie, which had no plot whatsoever, but it still felt like the most interesting movie you’d ever seen.
There was a thud so loud coming from behind me that I almost jumped up out of fear. But that was silly because when I turned around to see what it had been, it was only Sloan and Brooke making surprised faces and pointing at the cigarette in my hand. I politely made a you-caught-me facial expression before turning back around to watch the drunken masses being wild and free. People overestimate the clubs and underestimate the nightlife outside the club. Sure, people dance and their limbs seem inexplicably freer but nobody seems to understand just how amazing it is outside the club. The music isn’t as loud; you can actually talk to people and understand them (even though they are intoxicated, but isn’t that what makes it more genuine?). The weather is cold, but not cold enough to make you bolt inside; at least not during the Swedish summers. It’s chilly in the way that you can ask a guy for his jacket and then strike up a conversation with him – if you’re single that is. It’s misty but you can still see everything going on around you. You can see the stands on the other side of the street serving drunken teens, you can see the hobos striking up conversations with security guards – you can see things you usually don’t.
By the time I had finished my second cigarette Alex had joined us outside. I hadn’t minded too much, but it didn’t feel well being hit on when you were with someone and you hadn’t told your significant other about it. I didn’t have to update Tyler on my smallest move but it somehow still felt wrong of me not to. I was flattered, I really was, but I didn’t like Alex, not in that way, and I didn’t do anything to show him that. He was sweet and flirty but I was taken.
“I gotta go to the bathroom, be back soon,” I said out loud, not sure if I was talking to Isabelle or Alex. I headed to the bathroom and locked myself inside a stall. I sat on the lid of the toilet for a couple of minutes before taking my phone out and texting Tyler.
I love & miss you. Wish you were here. Hope you’re sleeping well. Talk in the morning. xx
I remained seated for a couple minutes longer trying to regain my breath. The air outside had felt stuffy, and it wasn’t from the smoke – more like Alex was giving me an anxiety attack. I knew it was stupid to think it was wrong of me but for the most part of my life I had been the one boys didn’t hit on and now I was being hit on. I didn’t know what to do or how to do something. I think I just missed Tyler and his warm embrace. I got up and left the stall, checked my face in the mirror and went to the bar to order myself a glass of wine before heading out again.
When I got out it was 01:43 and the amount of people both inside and out had increased. I met some old friends from ninth grade and chatted with them for a while. It’s funny how much people change over three years and it is also funny how little they change. They keep old reminders of themselves, like small quirks or favorite sayings, whilst adding new flavors to them like the way they wear their hair or the way they say things.
We spent the hours until closing just sitting outside with out friends and chatting rather than dancing and having our legs hurt in the afternoon. Because Isabelle and I had been gone for so long, our other friends had come looking for us and we ended up playing various games instead of participating in the nightlife. It was fun staying until closing and seeing our drunk friends proclaiming their love for us. It was nice to have one last night with all the graduates. But it felt weird to not have a class – because it was now after midnight and the third years had been erased from the system at school. It was strange to have that feeling, and the feeling of never seeing your classmates again unless there is a reunion. It was a sad feeling, even though I didn’t particularly speak to many of my classmates. The one thing that did enlighten the dark thoughts in my mind was the fact that my friends would still be my friends and I would still see them when we had time.
After saying our goodbyes to everyone, Isabelle and I had fetched a bus to town but we had missed the connecting bus so we were stuck with no way to go home. We were with two other mates and they didn’t know how to get home either so really we were all screwed and lost – something we shouldn’t have been, not today. But after walking around aimlessly for about an hour we decided on taking a cab home because we were not in the position to think clearly. Turns out it wasn’t a long ride which was good since that meant cab fair wouldn’t be too high. On the way home though, I had found myself fully awake and aware of my surroundings. It was morning, 04:07 to be precise, and it was strange to be getting ready to fall asleep when people were just getting ready to go to work. The concept of time felt strange because it was hard to decide whether or not to go to bed at all when everybody else was getting up.
We snuck into Isabelle’s apartment quietly, but not quietly enough to not wake her sister up.
“Are you guys drunk?” she said smiling. She seemed to have been up all night just to see if we were trashed.
“No,” I whispered.
“No, we are not,” I said. Tipsy maybe, but not drunk. I went into the bathroom to change and when I got back I found Isabelle and Irene in a minor disagreement over where to sleep; apparently Irene’s boyfriend was sleeping in Isabelle’s bed and that meant we couldn’t stay in there. The disagreement was solved rather fast, I wasn’t complaining, I would sleep anywhere right about now, and it ended with Isabelle and I sharing the couch and falling fast asleep with our fluffy woolen blankets. Fully awake one second and sound asleep the next, quiet snores and grinding teeth.
Ninety-two days before
When I woke up, I was drenched in sweat and my heart wouldn’t stop pounding; I’d had another panic attack. My heart was going faster than usual and I felt like it was about to burst out any minute and my brain felt like it was being terrorized by dangers all around me even though I was perfectly safe in this room. I tried to remember what I had dreamt about but no matter how hard I tried it didn’t work, I had missed the ten second window between waking up and being asleep to analyze the dream. After being forced to wake up by my scumbag body, I made Isabelle and myself a cup of coffee. She wasn’t up yet but maybe she’d like the surprise.
I rummaged through their kitchen to find cups and sugar and in the midst of that a golden plate hanging from their wall stopped me. It wasn’t actually golden, and it wasn’t actually a real plate – it was a weird shade of bronze and gold, and it was a paper plate with a nomination on it. Just like Tyler had received the ‘Covert Try-Hard’, Isabelle had received the class ‘Meh’ and it was the most suitable nomination for her. Her life was like that, so chill and ‘meh’. If she came to class late, all she would say was “meh”. If she overslept she would text me that and then say “meh” when I would yell at her about it. She said it to almost everything that went unexpectedly, she instead of being all carpe diem about everything she was just… meh. I wish I could’ve been like that, I had a fit if everything around me wasn’t planned and in accordance to a schedule.
I took my cup of coffee and sat on the balcony pondering about what to do today since I no longer had school, but that thought was quickly interrupted by a phone call from Tyler.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey yourself, how are you doing?” he said with morning voice echoing on the other line, he must’ve just woken up.
“I’m fine. Just made some coffee for Isabelle and me. Don’t really know what to do today… “
“Do some reading? You do have that challenge this year that you’ve fallen behind on. Or do some writing? Don’t you have the article to send in soon?” he said. He was right. Even though it felt like I had absolutely nothing to do, I still had so much to do.
“Oh right, I have send it in by the end of this week. Thanks for reminding me honey. What are your plans today?”
“Some guys wanna meet up so we might go hang out somewhere and then eat.”
“Sounds like fun?”
“Meh. We’ll see. I have to hang up now, soon home, talk to you later. I love you. And don’t forget to take your medication.”
“I love you too honey. Talk later,” I said and ended our phone call. The talks we had over the phone were never long, nor were they were interesting to anyone who listened in, but when you’ve been together with someone for almost two years it’s almost like you’re an old married couple. Especially when you’d already named your future kids. It was probably dumb of me to have set out my future now, but when you’re in love, what else can you do?
I sat on the balcony finishing my cup and just as I took that last sip, Isabelle was half-walking/half-stumbling through the living room in order to reach the second cup I’d placed on the balcony table.
“Cooooffeee,” she said like a mindless zombie, “this stuff is so good, can you believe it came out of one bag? Mom sure does know where to get the stuff” As she sat down on the chair in front of me I was suddenly reminded to take my medication. I got up and poked through my bag to find the little bottle of powder blue pills. I took a pill and a glass of water before heading back to the balcony.
“Cheers,” I said and raised my glass of water to her cup of coffee and quickly put the pill in my mouth, slowly chewing and trying to swallow it down without choking.
“Girl, that’s nasty. Do you have to chew every time?”
“Can’t swallow,” I said and Isabelle laughed because whether or not I had intended to make a sexual innuendo – it had happened.
“How much longer you gonna be on those?” she said with a somewhat serious facial expression. It was almost scary seeing that expression because she didn’t talk about serious stuff too much. We’d talked about my condition briefly and that was that, why make somebody’s diseases their entire being?
“’Til I stop being brainsick I guess,” I said and I guess that set of some alarm in her brain because it was almost like she had to contain herself from saying something inappropriate. I saw how her mouth had twitched like it had gotten ready to say something but her eyes flickered away as to say “don’t”. Either way, it got silent after that. The quiet wasn’t underappreciated though. It was about noon, people were either awake or beginning to wake up everywhere, but all around us was stillness. If it weren’t for our cups and glasses making noise against the round glass table then no noise would be heard for miles – you could literally hear if pins were to drop.
It wasn’t long until Isabelle’s younger sister Irene woke up and was refusing to go to school. It was strange to no longer have a place to go to on weekdays straight after waking up at eight in the morning. It felt rather odd to have no routine whatsoever in our lives whilst at the same time everyone else did. The world doesn’t stop spinning just because you stop moving – and that was scary. I remember when Keira died and I was locked away in my room for about a week and when I had come out it was like regular business; the world didn’t stop just because she stopped breathing.
“I’m gonna head home for a bit, talk later?” I told Isabelle and she gave me a little goodbye wave. I packed my things, got dressed, and left for Fi’s place.
Fi’s place wasn’t too far away as I thought it had last night when I planned on crashing here, but maybe that was just my brain being too tired to function. I called Fi on her cell to check if she was awake but no answer – she was probably resting or something. I unlocked the door and yelled out, “Hello?” No answer. I walked in to see if she was asleep but I was wrong. She’d left her bed unmade and was nowhere to be seen, neither was her brother, guess it was just me.
The empty apartment felt claustrophobic. Is it possible to feel like there is no air in your lungs when you know it’s physically impossible due to respiration and all the oxygen molecules in the air? The windows were slightly opened but there was still a lack of air. The apartment felt wrong or not mine anymore, technically it wasn’t, it was Fi’s, but I was handed a set of keys and half-heartedly moved in a couple of months ago. There were so many mixed emotions in the apartment; did it feel like this yesterday when everyone else was here? I had to get out of there, find Fi, and tell her we had to move because I was convinced ghosts haunted the place. Or maybe it was just Keira saying hello.
I called Fi five more times but it just went to voicemail, why didn’t she ever charge her stupid phone? I left the building and hopped on a bus towards the local cemetery fifteen minutes away. The cemetery was huge, and just saying that was an understatement. It was a cemetery best seen at night because the lights lit up in various color and because it gives you the feeling of being in a horror movie. I walked by a couple of people visiting their loved ones and I wondered about their stories; how did they go? Did they go peacefully? Did they go on their own terms? There were so many questions I wanted to ask but they were high unappreciated by anyone being asked. Keira’s grave was pretty far in, through the woods, and close to the south exit. It was scary going through the woods because you never knew if you’d be attacked by a wild animal or not (though, that scenario was highly unlikely). What really surprised me though was seeing a woman at Keira’s headstone. I couldn’t quite make out who it was until I got there, and then it all kind of made sense to me.
“Remembering the old days?” I said, “You suck at answering your phone by the way.” Fiona looked up at through her fringe and smiled. It was good seeing Fi here, it’d been a while since she’d been here; she was the closest to Keira. Maybe it was the sister thing.
She rummaged through her pockets and said, “I must’ve left it in your bag or at home, sorry. But it’s at about 3% or something anyways.”
“You going home soon?” I asked as I walked over to her and closer to the remains of our deceased friend.
“Nah. Gonna meet this guy and his friends. Might hang out in the park ’til late at night,” She said as she repositioned the bag on her shoulder, “Find my phone, and charge it will you? Don’t worry, I’ll come home, I always do,” I smiled at her because even though there was no way of reaching her half the time she had always come back. In a world full of uncertainty she was the one certainty I could count on. I took her phone and bid her adieu, awaiting her to be far out of my vision so I could talk to Keira.
“Hey,” I had said stupidly awaiting a response, “I know you don’t talk so I won’t force you to either. Just listen, okay?” No response, the air was still, nothing to be heard radially for miles. I talked to her for what felt like hours but was only minutes, I told her about last night and how I felt about moving on to the next stage of my life; I told her everything I could until all I could do was pull out old memories and imagine a conversation with her.
“Remember that time when we were six and we didn’t know we were neighbors even though we were in the same pre-school? We were so surprised and I remember being the loneliest kid ever. To hear you shouting my name from your balcony was the best feeling in the world.” I said out loud.
That was a crazy day, she would have said, we were so lucky to have found each other.
“Oh Kee! Do you remember that time we played football and –“
You accidentally kicked the ball a little too hard and it hit the window –
“And we both ran away just in case the nasty woman in the house saw us!” we both would’ve said simultaneously. I laughed, and I knew she would too if she was still able to. If anyone were there to see me laughing all alone they would have thought I was mad. But wasn’t this a part of the healing process? Reminiscing with the dead was better than reminiscing with the living because they never got Keira like I did, they didn’t get anything quite frankly.
“I miss you,” I muttered.
I know. I miss you too.
“You promised. You promised you wouldn’t leave me,” I whispered as tears were leaking through my closed eyes. I couldn’t stop the water works even if I tried, I tried counting backwards from one thousand, but it didn’t work. I was so mad at her. I was so mad at her for not breathing, I was mad at her for being there and not here, I was mad because she didn’t keep her promise. I don’t know how long I sat at Keira’s grave bawling my eyes out but it must’ve been for hours because when I looked up at the sky it had turned from light blue to a dark indigo and the weather had gone from a warm summer wind to a chill autumn breeze. I grabbed a note which had been neatly tucked away in the back pocket of my jeans and gently placed it on the top of her headstone, waiting for the wind to blow away yet another secret.
Eighty-nine days before
Something else they don’t tell you in school: how to gather strength in the mornings and actually get out of bed. Getting out of bed per se isn’t the worst part – it’s remembering all the crap you have to do throughout the day in order to not die of boredom or your own thoughts. But just thinking about that is a burden itself and requires way too much energy, something I didn’t have. Throwing the blankets off myself, before gathering the fortitude to put one foot in front of the other and into the world outside my bedroom, felt like the most impossible task ever faced. Whilst I sat at the edge of my bed, letting my hair fall over the silk, pink playsuit I had on, I could only ask myself how normal people do this. How do normal people get up in the morning and put one foot in front of another without any hesitation? It had become routine to sit at the edge, afraid of the wooden floor suddenly shifting from underneath my feet. Being on the second floor of our house hadn’t made the thought completely impossible but the rational part of my tainted brain still had some sense of it never happening. Gathering the courage to take a step is a task in itself. Waking up felt like one of those damn Babushka dolls. I hate those Babushka dolls; why does there have to be so many damn layers to everything? Can’t anything just be simple anymore?
I finally left my bed after I’d hit the snooze button for the fifth time. I shouldn’t have put the alarm on but I had to have breakfast with Fi before I headed over to the therapist’s office for our final session before she went on vacation. The thought of a final session was unsettling; what would I do if something were to happen? Being poisonous wasn’t easy. I grabbed a cup of tea and swallowed the little pills, put a coat over my playsuit, and biked over to her place.
When I got there she was still sleeping so I had to let myself in with the key her parents had given me years ago. “Oh Zoe dear, come over whenever, we don’t mind at all!” Mrs. K had said, I wonder how she feels about that today.
“Girl, wake up!” I said as I lightly nudged Fi, but she wouldn’t budge so removed the blankets off of her.
“Come on Zo… I’m tired and I have a headache.” Fi said with a hazy voice.
“Long night?” I said whilst carefully untangling the knots in her hair.
“You bet. Why are you up so early? Go back to bed.”
“Okay. Don’t go to bed. But let me sleep. Find me later.” She replied whilst putting the blanket over her head in attempt to ignore me.
“Well aren’t you a blast?” I said sarcastically, partly bitter over the fact that she hadn’t woken up to spend time with me.
Just as I was about to close the door she peeked out from underneath the blanket and uttered, “Love you Zo, just tired.” I couldn’t stay mad at her, partly because she was so cute in her morning voice and ruffled hair, partly because I would’ve acted the same way if someone had woken me up so early.
“I’ll make a cup of coffee and put it on the counter, I’ll be back later.” And with that I closed her door and went into the kitchen. I wondered how much time I had spent in this kitchen making food for people who weren’t me. This is where I had cooked for Tyler on our two month anniversary, we had macaroni and meatballs and I had screwed up the macaroni by putting too much salt in it, I tried and failed miserably; safe to say, we ordered pizza ten minutes later and pretended we had never tasted anything as bad as what I had made. This is also where Keira and I made our first ever scones together. It sounds stupid thinking about it now, but back then it was the most exciting thing ever and probably the accomplishment of our lives. Being an eight year old really does limit your views on what’s accomplishment worthy and what is not. I remember taking a recipe from an old cookbook we found in her mom’s bookshelf and doing it all by ourselves. Mrs. K was so worried we were going to burn the house down so Julian had to stand there and supervise us; he wasn’t very pleased to babysit us.
“Could you BE any slower?” he’d complained.
“We could, but we’re hungry!” Keira said. She thought she was being funny; Julian was not amused. We spilled milk everywhere and by the time we were done there was more flour on the floor than in the actual dough. Even though the kitchen was a mess the scones were still perfect and they tasted like heaven. This kitchen had cherished so many beautiful memories of the people I loved and myself. Now it just looked abandoned; no drawings stuck to the refrigerator by silly looking magnets, no picture magnets showing off their beautiful family, it was a little morbid.
The time was 10:21, if I didn’t leave now I would’ve been late for the shrink and I didn’t want to do that to her so I left a cup of coffee on the counter for Fi and dashed outside. As I dashed outside I remembered that I was still wearing my playsuit and suddenly felt embarrassed but I was out of time and I had my coat so it should’ve been okay, as long as nobody peeked under the coat everything would be fine. But everything wasn’t fine, because I was so wrapped up in my thoughts about the damn playsuit that I knocked over the guy entering the building when I was on my way out.
“I’m so sorry!” we both started frantically exclaiming. It would’ve been funny if I hadn’t been so stressed out, or if I hadn’t scraped my knee and red liquid wasn’t flowing out of knee. “Shit!” was all I could say before a couple of tears started running down my cheek. It didn’t hurt but nothing seemed to go my way and it was just too much for me to handle.
“Hey hey? Don’t cry, I have some bandages in my car. I’ll go get them and then you’ll be on your way to wherever you were. I’m sorry. “ he said in a very timid voice.
“I don’t think I can walk, if I bend my leg it’ll probably hurt.” I said, feeling stupid. Why did I even say that? What would he do, fix my knee?
“Okay. I’ll carry you to my car and take you where you need to be. I probably have to be somewhere near there too.”
“How can you know that? And how do I know you won’t kill me?”
“Do I look like a person who’d kill someone else?”
“I don’t know!” I said and then the tears started running again, I just couldn’t stop the damn flood, I felt like the dumbest little girl alive. I was going to be late and my knee was messed up and everything was just feeling like crap.
“Here is my ID, name is Daniel, I live in this building, and I’m a friend of a guy who lived on the fourth floor.”
“Yeah. And since you know his name I take it you know him too, so let’s go.” And before I could answer he had scooped me up in his arms and taken me over to his dark blue Volkswagen car. It was a nice car, a lot like a family car, and it made me wonder if he was a family man because he looked quite old. He looked like a guy in his thirties, had a scruffy beard, nice hair, and a well-defined jawline.
“Here,” he said as he handed me some antiseptic and some gauze, “That should help. Well, it will sting like hell for about a minute but at least then it won’t get infected, and the gauze isn’t so fashionable but it’ll make you look like you were in a war or a fight… so, that’s something. Now what’s the address?” I gave him the address and he drove me to my shrink’s office. As afraid as I was that he would kill me, I started to ease up during the ride. Maybe it was the soft indie music playing in the background, or the scent of the evergreen tree thing hanging in his rearview mirror, which reminded me of our family car.
As we approached the building where my therapist’s office resided I said, “Thanks for the ride, you really didn’t have to.”
“No problem, see you around.” He replied as I got out of the car, he smiled and waved goodbye right before he drove off to wherever he had to be. I really should’ve asked him where he was going, and if he was coming back since I could barely walk and could use a ride home now that my bike was still at Fi’s. Oh well.
I stared at the grey building located in front of me. The building wasn’t very inviting and mostly looked like a prison – weren’t we all prisoners in one way or another? The building has four stories, each one filled with people who wish not to spend a minute longer there. Every time I stood outside the building I could feel the anxiety within start bubbling, not because the place gave me anxiety or that the people who had it worse off than me were scary, but because I could not bear the thought of exposing myself to somebody else in that way; but I guess that’s what got me into this mess in the first place.
I got into the elevator with four other people, each of them looking as miserable as the other. Except for this one little girl, she was with her mother and looked rather content with herself. I wondered how I went from being like her to becoming the person I am today. Sometimes these thoughts just struck me from out of nowhere and you’d think they’d give me answers or make me feel wise and profound but all they did was make me feel more lost and anxious about life than I was before. Thinking was more of a curse than it was a gift.
As I stepped out of the elevator and into the waiting room I was met with gazes from the different corners of the room; everyone afraid they’ll run into someone they know. I reported my existence at the reception and took a seat on the couch. Signing in at the reception made me kind of sad because the receptionist knew my name, and it was sweet that she took the time to learn my name, but I don’t know if it said more about me as a patient or more about her as a receptionist. It also made me sad because I would probably leave this wing in a couple of months, and it’d just be such a shame if we built this strange bond over me signing in. Sometimes I even joined her and her colleagues in their conversations; I got attached to people way too quickly.
I watched the people in the room, all busy with one thing or another. There were mostly kids in here since this was the psychiatric wing for kids up until the age of eighteen – I was eighteen but because I was in the middle of treatment they decided not to ship me off to the big kids wing just yet. It was awkward being the only teenager there and having all the mothers stare at me, they were probably wondering how the hell I got there and praying to God that their kids won’t end up like me – I wouldn’t want them to turn out like me either, I wasn’t exactly the best role model.
The negative thoughts floating around in my head were interrupted by a figure standing in front of me, it was her, it was Suzanne.
“You ready Zoe?” she said with a smile on her lips. I walked with Suzanne through the hallway of therapists. The hallway was endless and dull, filled with therapists who were underpaid and patients who were afraid of their own minds. As we reached her room I tried to gather my thoughts and focus on what I should say when I get in there.
I’m not okay. I don’t feel very good. I don’t sleep very much. Should my heart feel this heavy?
But that’s not how it went. That’s never how it went. Something about a therapist’s office always made me feel uneasy. The chair was comfortable and the color of the wallpaper was a nice tone of cream, the bookshelf was filled with various novels and textbooks, there were flowers and a few stuffed animals – it looked very much like a regular bedroom but it felt haunted. How many people have sat in here and bawled their eyes out? How many have ridded their sins to her? How many times has she come face to face with a child sociopath? The questions haunt me as I remove my coat.
“Did you just wake up? We could have chosen another time.” She says. Suzanne was always so nice to me. She knew that the nights I did sleep, I really slept.
“No, I was just in a hurry as I left the house. I slept pretty okay.” Shoot. That was not at all what I was going to say. I suddenly felt stupid for deviating from the initial plan, why could I never speak my mind?
Suzanne looked at me with her head tilted slightly, as if she tried to decode what was going on inside my mind from the way I was dressed and sitting, possibly trying to deduce the state of my mind from the tone of which I spoke. She wore black-rimmed glasses, a thin grey cardigan over some silky blouse matched with black jeans, her nails a nice shade of baby pink – my shrink had style. She was a beautiful and young woman, her blonde hair framing her face perfectly. I wondered why she wanted to be a shrink, was she also troubled when she was younger? I wanted to be a therapist once. I wanted to fix people, but how do you fix someone when you can’t even fix yourself?
“Do you have anything specific you wanted to talk about today?”
“No, not really. I’m pretty fine.” Liar. I was such a liar.
“Well then, I’d like to initiate this session by saying this is our last session before you transfer to the adult wing,” she stared at me, waiting for a response, but I couldn’t do anything but focus on my breathing because this was terrible news, “we’ve made a lot of progress and I will make sure you get a time with someone as soon as possible. I am proud of what we have accomplished during this year, and I can see that there has been a significant change in your behavior since last March. And I have to say –“ she kept going and on about me, my new therapist and psychiatrist, but I couldn’t really understand her because I’d stopped listening. I could see her lips moving, and I could hear words leaving her mouth, catching occasional words like ‘medication’ and ‘payment’ but I couldn’t form them into coherent sentences in my mind. I’d have to start over, again. It was hard enough last time, now I’d do it again. I knew we’d have a last session – for the summer – not forever. I nodded occasionally so she wouldn’t think I was ignoring her, which I wasn’t doing since I genuinely liked her. I had no problem with her, she was helping me trying to cope with some of my issues, and I was slowly gaining faith in her. Faith was a stupid thing.
I don’t know how long I spaced out because at one point I caught the phrases ‘Looks like we’re done’ and ‘I wish you well’. I grabbed my coat off the chair, shaked her hand one last time and walked down the hall towards the reception. I stood in the reception for a little while, watching the staff mingle, and the parents taking care of their children. As much as I hated it here; I was going to miss this place. This was a safe place even if it did feel haunted. I knew if it ever got really bad I could call and make an appointment and they would treat me nicely. I wasn’t so sure the adult wing would be like that. The few times I’d walked by there all I could see was the receptionist who looked like she’d much rather be at home taking care of her lousy husband, at least the receptionist here was nice to me and engaged in conversation. Childhood, I wished I hadn’t taken it for granted.
I grabbed my phone in attempt to find somebody who could pick me up but I didn’t know anybody with a license, at least not anybody who was available right now. I went to the nearest bus stop and sat there for a couple of minutes in solitude, silently letting some tears escape my eyes as I smoked a cigarette, wondering what the hell I was going to do with my life. My phone vibrated vigorously as I took the final drag – unknown caller.
“Hi it’s Zoe,” I said in an attempt to sound polite to whoever was calling.
“Uhm. It’s me. Daniel,” the guy who dropped me off this morning, “Julian gave me your cell. You need a ride? I figured I dropped you off so I should pick you up as well.”
“Actually, yes, I’m by the bus stop near the building.”
“Cool, be there in five” and with that he hung up. It was nice of him to come and pick me up, but at the same time it felt rather strange. And what the hell was I doing taking rides from strangers? As soon as I got to Fi’s I had to talk to Julian and ask about this Daniel person who was so insistent on chauffeuring me around. I didn’t wait long and when he said he’d be there in five – he meant it. Most people when they say they’ll be there in five don’t really mean it; they mean that they’re about to leave their house in five minutes. I hadn’t even managed to finish the level I was playing before he arrived.
“Drop you off where I picked you up?” he said as I fumbled with the seatbelt. Stupid things. They’re like USB sticks – gotta twist and turn them about five times before they’ll stick.
“That’d be great, thanks”
“You don’t live there do you? I swear I would’ve recognized your face if you did.”
“We got time” It wasn’t a complicated or long story but sometimes you don’t feel like explaining the circumstances of your life. I explained to him how my parents were protective of where I went and with whom – but they hadn’t minded me staying at Fi’s brother’s place, as our families had known each other forever. The parents always knew they’d find me through him if they couldn’t reach me first. I also explained how I didn’t quite get alone with their religious and political views. He didn’t say much after I’d explained the situation with my parents. We rode in mostly silence – and some low orchestral music in the background.
My phone vibrates – it’s Tyler. “I miss you,” I say.
“Miss you too, how was it?” he was referring to the shrink.
“Gotta change clinic. Not very happy about it.” I whisper so Daniel wouldn’t hear. I wanted to say that I was upset. That I wanted to cry in his arms. But I didn’t want to bother him. I always felt like I bothered people.
“Sorry to hear that. Do you want to meet tomorrow? I don’t think I’ll have much time before going on vacation.”
“Yes! We could watch a movie or something for a little while.”
“Sounds good. Be there in twenty-four hours. Love you.”
“Love you too”
“BUTILOVEYOUMORE.BYE!” he said in a rapid and loud voice before I could respond back. I laughed to myself. It was the stupidest thing ever, but it was still so adorable – fighting over who loved the other the most. I texted him “LOL! ILOVEYOUMORE!” in hopes of winning this battle. Of course I would win, I was adorable, nothing beats short, adorable people.
“Boyfriend?” Daniel had said. I had almost forgotten he was in the car due to the previous silence.
“Yeah. Two years in August.” I replied with a smile on my lips. I was proud of our relationship. Of how it was and how long it had lasted. This was the real deal and I knew it in every inch of my body.
“Congrats,” he said in a monotonous tone, “I just got dumped recently”
I felt so bad and stupid for mentioning my relationship. I couldn’t think of anything to say except for, “I’m sorry.” I looked at his face waiting for a response but received none. All I received was a tiny twitch in his jaw. Tyler did the same when he recalled something he didn’t want to. I wanted to comfort Daniel, but how do you comfort somebody if you don’t really know what you are comforting?
When we arrived at the parking lot Julian was about to head in with a stack of groceries.
“I see you made it home in one piece,” he said winking at me and then giving Daniel a pat on the back, “she been any trouble? My sister’s friends are the worst you know.” We made our way up the stairs, Julian carrying me whilst Daniel carried the groceries. As we entered the apartment, I tried to locate Fi to get the 411 on who this Daniel guy was but there was no trace of her there. Having been hurt I decided I deserved to sit on the couch with a cold beer and chill whilst they guys unpacked the groceries.
“Real lady-like Zo!” Julian shouted as he tried to figure out where the baking soda went.
“It’s the 21st century Julian, deal with it!” I said as I gave him a big smirk. I saw Daniel smile at our conversation as he simultaneously re-put the misplaced items in the places they were supposed to be. It was funny how he knew where everything would go; perhaps his kitchen was organized the same way, maybe the apartment felt like home to him and he just knew. Or he figured it out from how everything was put; something Julian couldn’t do even if his life was at stake.
Hours passed and not much else was done, the boys were in the living room watching some movie and I stayed in my room catching up on some reading. Who knew Holden Caulfield, in all his misery, could be so dreamy? In the midst of my reading I heard the front door slam shut and hoped it to be Fi. I say hope because it clearly wasn’t somebody entering but somebody leaving.
“Fi, that you?” I yelled out in hope of an answer, not removing my eyes from the page of the book.
“Julian just left. He said he’d be back later and that I could stay.” Daniel said, my eyes leaving the page and placing him in the doorway of my bedroom.
“Oh… okay.” I said as my eyes tried to return to the book. There was tension in the air as we both tried to look elsewhere but he obviously wanted to speak to me as he still remained in the doorway. “Ehh, you wanna talk?” I said awkwardly as I sat up in my bed.
He smiled as he said, “Am I that obvious?”
“Nobody really lingers in doorways anymore” I said in a sarcastic tone.
“Oh really? 21st century and all?” he said as he sat down next to me on the bed. I laughed with him over that remark and I found myself to be comfortable with him in a way that I hadn’t felt before, not in a long time. We grew quiet and it started to feel less comfortable and I was getting worried he might think of this as an invitation to start something romantic.
“I know what’s it like,” he said, suddenly breaking the silence between us, “changing wings at the clinic.” I look at him only to notice him looking away, fiddling with a little piece of skin on one of his fingers. “I’m not gonna lie and say it was the best time of my life, but maybe you won’t have it as bad.” I was shocked to hear him speak about something so personal. I wouldn’t dare to speak about my condition unless it’s to my close ring of friends – which didn’t include very many. I still have trouble talking about it; really talk about it, to anybody but Fi. I recognized this utterance of his as a helping hand and decided to take it; and to give back.
“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop. It was just such a tiny car and I kinda figured when I dropped you off. Which is why I knew when to pick you up.” He said, still averting his gaze from mine.
“Don’t worry about it. I just… I don’t talk about it much. I try not to, at least.” I said whilst looking at him, hoping he’d look into mine so he’d understand that I wasn’t mad at him for eavesdropping. “But thank you for sharing, and I really do hope it won’t be so difficult.” He looked at me then, for the first time since we started speaking about this, he smiled a little half-smile and I reciprocated. He rose to his feet, ready to leave this little bubble of sad half-smiles.
“When you’re ready to talk,” he said as he stood in the doorway, “my number is in your cell.” I heard the door close as he left the apartment and suddenly I felt ridiculously alone. I ran up from my bed, throwing the covers up in such a hurry that they almost consumed me as I tried to run past them. I fumbled with some sandals, trying to get out of here as soon as possible but then there was the door and the fact that I needed to lock it. I felt so overwhelmed and could feel a panic attack arising, my head was pounding and my breathing was out of control, but I somehow found the keys to the apartment and wore two different shoes. Racing against my heartbeat I opened the door just as fast as I closed and locked it. Pulling the handle down twice to make sure it was properly locked. As I raced down the stairs two at a time I was suddenly aware that I was unaware of the consequences that would follow from this. I stopped by the main gate, looking at the sheet of paper with all the tenants, scanning for that one tenant. Finding the tenant I raced up the stairs to the fifth floor, contemplating whether or not to just go back home and take a nap. I rang the bell, realizing just how stupid I was to act on an impulse. The door opened and he looked just as confused as I was feeling.
“I’m ready,” I said as I walked into his apartment.
Eighty-four days before
Saturdays were supposed to be the second best day of the week because you got to sleep in and be lazy all day until somebody forced you to go out with him or her. Wrong. Saturdays were the days I worked at the old folks home. The home wasn’t terribly boring and the pay wasn’t all that bad but something about watching the older people deteriorate was just plain depressing. I started on the eighth floor and sat down with some old lady named Vera.
“Hi, my name’s Zoe, do you feel like talking?” I asked her politely.
“Sure! Nobody ever talks to me anymore. You know, I think I have a granddaughter named Zoe who looks a lot like you. Are you 12?” I laughed at her as she said this because it was not uncommon for me to be mistaken as a 12 year old.
“No, I’m 18.”
“Whoa! But you look so young!”
“Good genes?” I said with a smirk and she laughed with me. Being with Vera was nice. She was talkative and shared anecdotes about her daughter with me and all the crazy things she was up to when she was young. Listening to her talking, reminded me of my grandmother and just how much I missed her.
“You visiting someone here? Or is this some new twisted dating service?”
“I work here Vera, I was here last week, remember? We played charades.”
“Oh right! I remember you were so bad at it.” She said as she burst out laughing. But she didn’t remember, I could see it in her eyes. She had some form of dementia and every week I reminded her of who I was. The act of reminding her of who I was, or sometimes who she herself was, wasn’t tiring or annoying but it was more saddening. To have gone through life only to not remember it when you’re seventy-five, there’s no escaping the sadness that brings. I sat with Vera for a couple of hours, letting her do most of the talking because me being here was not about me but about her. Vera was old, there was no denying that, and most likely to pass away soon; her final years should be about her and her only. Before I left Vera was talking about her time in Italy right before the Second World War.
“I was on a field trip with my school, and it was perfectly safe to be there then, it was a couple of years before the war but mind you we didn’t know there was a war to come. But oh, how I remember the city!”
“Was it everything you imagined?”
“And so much more my dear. If you have the chance to travel, take it! Oh take it my dear.”
“I’ll take your words to the heart. What did you do there?”
“We visited building and museums but I don’t think they realized that the real beauty was on the streets.”
“The streets? What do you mean?”
“There is so much to say about the streets. Start with the streets themselves, how they are formed and of what gravel. The streets of Rome were amazing. They were never flat so they were never meant for bicycles or for heels but for adventure my child,” she said with a light shining in her eyes, “I remember walking to the Piazza di Spagna and being truly mesmerized by all that I saw. The Spanish Steps were flooded with tourists and the memorial for Keats and Shelley was so crowded we couldn’t even get in. Even though the streets were filled with sleazy Italian boys… the streets themselves were amazing.”
“Did you do anything after school?”
“Oh we did. But our teacher was very strict so we had to sneak out. I remember going out with my best friends after our six o’clock curfew to sit at a café in hopes of meeting some handsome Italian who could sweep us off our feet.” I smiled when she said this because it sounded like something straight out of a cheesy 50s movie where the boy and girl meet to fall in love happily ever after.
“Did any gorgeous Italian find you?” I said, nudging her lightly in a friendly manner.
Vera sighed, “Sometimes you have to find yourself before someone else can find you.” She looked out the window, her eyes glazed. “The only thing I regret in this life is not knowing who I was before being swept into the madness we call growing up. My only advice to you, my dear… Don’t spend every minute of your life waiting.” She returned her gaze back to mine, gently placing her hand on mine as she shed a tear and I knew I had struck a nerve – wishing I hadn’t.
Eighty-three days before
“Honey, don’t forget to pick up your laundry, refill your meds, buy a present for-“
“Yes yes, mother.” I said, rubbing my eyes as I walked down the stairs towards the living room only to collapse on it after being awake for 23 hours.
“Get off the couch will you? It’s noon already, be productive.” I looked at my mother, walking around the house frantically trying to place the pillows on the couch as if they were going to have photo shoot for IKEA in ten minutes.
“Grr… mm mm…” were the only sounds I was able to release out of my mouth. I lay there on the couch, my head pounding from the lack of hydration and energy, my fingers ready to fall off after pulling an all-nighter on a story I knew I was never going to finish.
“Were you up all night again?” My mother asked, a hint of anger in her tone.
“Maybe…” I answered reluctantly, hiding under the couch pillow.
“I told you not to do that! Gosh, when will you ever listen to me? It’s not good for you condition! This is how it starts; this is how you get worse. Zoe, you never listen to me. I don’t know-“
“Yes yes, mother. I know I never listen; I’ll try to not stay up so long anymore. I promise. Okay? Don’t be mad, it’ll stress you out. I’ll go take a nap and it’ll reset my cycle, promise.”
“Okay. Good girl. I have clients coming over soon, please go upstairs, and take a nap.” She said as she kissed my forehead, leaving a velvety lip stained mark on the left side of my forehead. I grabbed an energy drink from the fridge, preparing myself for the headache, which would come after the too short nap I was about to take. Slouching up the stairs, I looked around at the house; it really did look like something out of an IKEA catalogue. I could picture the price tags floating around the furniture, seeing how much money my mother throws at this house even though none of us are rarely here. This didn’t feel like a home; it felt like a beach house meant to store you for the summer. I didn’t know if that was sad or comforting – to have a place where you’re meant to get away from the real world.
I collapsed back into bed, in my way too pink, way too bright, bedroom. The artwork I’d made when I was six still hanging on the tattered walls, the doorframe with marks on them indicating how much I’d grown each year, the closet full of clothes belonging to the person I would never be again. The closet was taunting me, begging me to pick up the dresses that I once wore happily – hinting at somebody who is no longer within reach.
“You could make a lot of money off of those, you know” startling me was the voice of my brother, “unless you want to keep them as a memento, which is fine too.” He smiled at me, the two minutes older version of myself; Zoe 2,0, but you know, in guy format, and much better at everything.
“Hey, when did you get back?” I said, patting the empty space on my bed, “I missed you, you know.”
“I know. I’m sorry, I just couldn’t deal, you know?”
“I know.” The silence in the room was deafening, the tension choking my vocal chords, “When are you leaving again?” I said, scared what the answer might be, I’m staying, actually.
“I leave in a month,” he said. The air in my lungs gushing out, my flight response easing up, “I want a head start on college, might be good to check out the competition.” He smiled at the thought of college, imagining all the possibilities of a life far away from here.
“Don’t forget me,” I said smiling, squeezing his right hand, “It gets lonely without you.”
“It got lonely the moment we entered world,” I got worried when he said this because there was an unspoken rule. We didn’t talk about it unless mother forced us, unless anybody forced us. But David being David saved himself in just the right moment, “you know, after sharing eight and a half months together in the womb, not being in the same space with you just seems strange” There was a hint of truth mixed with a hint of sadness in what he said.
“David, you have to stop. You’re bordering on the line of incest.” We laughed as I said this, him throwing a pillow at me for even thinking the thought. It was nice to laugh with him again. David had been gone physically for only six months, but he seemed to have been gone mentally for almost one and a half years. The last time I saw David, his eyes seemed lifeless and his body was bordering on the line of detoriation, but now, it’s like that David never existed; his eyes are full of life and his body is toned and muscular.
“How was France?” I asked, “You seem happier.”
He smiled one of those David smiles where his white sparkling teeth were flashed, “France has been good for me. The French are a bit more open about how they feel and the croissants are to die for. And the ladies…”
“Stop. No more. I’ve heard enough.” We laugh and smile at each other as we come to ease with the memory of France and his school far away. I wish I could’ve been shipped off as well but at the same time it would’ve felt too wrong. I understood why David had to go, there was no way he would’ve gotten better if he hadn’t. I missed him every day but it was also painful to have him here – to be reminded of a ghost.
“David, not that I don’t love having you here. But…” I started saying and his face tensed up; his jawline became sharper and his eyes bolder with a flash of worry in them.
“But what Zo?” he said, trying to remain calm but I could feel his fight or flight instinct. It was in the way his fingers clenched inwards, his lower lip ready to spurt out hurtful words, his nostrils enlarging a bit. I couldn’t do this to him, I simply couldn’t.
“I really have to sleep,” his hands unclenched and his lower lip turned into a half-smile, “I’ve been up all night writing a paper for a writing scholarship and… I just can’t think straight anymore. My brain needs some sleep.” David nods and gives my hand a little squeeze before he enters the hallway and closes the door to my bedroom. The room falls silent and I understand what David said about being alone from the moment we entered this world. This feeling of emptiness never seemed to leave my body.
Being alone and feeling aloneare two different things my darling, they don’t necessarily have to coincide with the other. If they do, then the fates don’t really like you.
Her voice haunts me.
It always does at the end of the day.
Eighty-one days before
“Tell me about that day,” my new shrink said. He wanted me to talk about Keira, the day of, the days after, the months after – everything up until now. But what he didn’t understand is that it didn’t begin after, it was all in the ‘before’ of the incident.
“What? It’s not in the file?” I said, pointing to the folder my previous psychiatrists and therapists had contributed to, “It seems like a pretty thick file at this point, must be a lot of juicy reading in there.” I knew I was coming off as unfriendly and hostile, all of which he could read into in various way, but I was just so tired of constantly having to repeat my story.
“Look Zoe, I know what’s in that file. I’ve read it numerous times to try and understand you, but I need to hear it from you. And I know you’re tired of having to repeat yourself over and over when I know you just want it to be over.”
I looked out the window; wanting to shout at him for thinking he knew what I wanted. He didn’t know anything about me. The me in the file on top of the table and the real me trapped inside this body were two different people. Sure, they had some similarities but they weren’t the same people, if only he could understand that. He wasn’t entirely wrong either, but just the fact that he thinks he knows everything about me made me mad. If he knew, then why didn’t he just fix the problem at hand?
“It was a Monday morning. December 11th, 2012. It was eleven o’clock and I was late for school and I remember thinking that my mother should’ve woken me up for school, but she didn’t. I didn’t think of it much then, who would?” I paused. I took a tissue from the box in front of me, ready for the tears to sprint out of my eyes as I kept recalling that day. “I walked downstairs and saw my parents sitting on the couch, and my brother crying his eyes out. And then everything started going south.” I stopped talking, not because my eyes were starting to leak but because I felt stupid. Stupid for not being able to fix this after years in therapy, stupid for not helping Keira, stupid for everything I had done in my eighteen years of existence. The words in me wouldn’t come out; the words in my head were jumbled and didn’t make sense.
“Let’s take a break,” he said, “fill out this form, and we can see how to continue your treatment from there.” I filled out the form. The same form I always had to fill out, the same hundred questions. I’d filled it out three times now and every time it came back with the same answer – inconclusive. The test claimed I wasn’t sick, but I could feel it in my bones that there was something wrong with me or else I wouldn’t have this nagging feeling at the back of my head. The test enraged me because it decides the basis of how I should be treated and if they didn’t ask me certain questions then I couldn’t know what was wrong with me. I was wrong; my brain wasn’t wired the way it should have been. It’s like I have two minions inside my head deciding to mess everything up. I got the wrong set of minions in my head running the control center, putting the blue wires with the red ones instead of the yellow ones with the red wires. But if I said that they would just classify me as crazy, and I wasn’t. I was sick enough so my parents would stick me in therapy but I wasn’t sick enough to get actual in-resident treatment. And it hurt like hell to feel like my pain wasn’t “good” enough for them.
He looked over the form I had just filled out, his eyebrows dancing a little as he reflected upon my answers. His rugged hands scratching his unshaven beard, twirling his pen trying to wrap his head around the mental case that was I. Four years, two psychiatrists, three psychologists, and five medications later I was still the mental case they couldn’t figure out. This wasn’t going to change any time soon.
Eighty days before
“I’m going to miss you, you know that right?” I said as I looked up at Tyler. His hair all ruffled from post-coitus napping, beads of sweat still lingering by his neck.
“I know. And you know that I’ll miss you too, right?” he asked with hopeful eyes. I didn’t know how to respond because I wasn’t sure he was going to miss me. I was always the one who loved more; it had always been that way. I had always tried harder to piece things together. I nodded slightly and placed my head on chest, wrapping my arms around him the way a baby does when they are scared. I wanted to tell him that it didn’t matter that he was going to be miles away from me; I wanted to tell him that I always felt alone – even now after making love.
He kissed my forehead lightly, leaving a hint of perspiration, and walked to the bathroom exposing his, oh so wonderful, defined back. I picked up my phone and dialed Fi in hope of some quality time but all I got was her voicemail.
“Fi, it’s me. Listen, I need some time with my girl, your place at 19? See you then.” I said, suddenly feeling exhausted. Just as I was about to ponder on this feeling of exhaustion, Tyler walked out with a pink box with a satin bow on it.
“Well, what is this Mr. Romantic?” I said teasingly. The exhaustion left me body as quickly as it had entered it because it had been replaced with a new feeling: excitement. Is that how feelings worked? You stop feeling one just as the other comes along, is there no transition period?
I opened the gift slowly and watched his face as it watched mine. Inside was a tiny ring meant for my delicate little fingers.
“You know you’re not legal right? You can’t get married to me.” I said, holding the ring up to investigate the clarity of it.
“I know, stupid. You always said you wanted a ring, and you said I would never get you a ring, and so now this is me proving that I do listen to you and will do anything to make you happy.” We smiled as he finished talking because this was what happy felt like: waking up to the person you love, finding them to surprise you even after so long, to bring butterflies back to warmth after a season of cold. “I know these past few months have been hard, with application for school and all, and now I’m leaving. But I love you; you should know that by now. We’ll call, Skype, text – everything.” I kissed him then because when the love of your life proclaims their love for you, there really isn’t much else to do but savor it with some kisses.
“I’m so glad I never gave up on you,” I said, placing the ring on my finger and admiring its beauty.
“I’m glad you didn’t either.” But there was a hint of guilt in his tone, something unsavory about the response. But before I got the chance to play detective and ask what was wrong his phone started ringing and he had to take the call.
“One minute babe, be right back. Hey this is Ty-” he said as he drifted off to the living room. I lay there in his bed, wondering how I could live a life without him near me. Because when I was on the brink of madness he had always been the one to pull me back and I knew that it hadn’t been fair of me to do that to him but I wasn’t going to apologize for my faulty wiring. And if he truly loved me then he would love me for me, right? But the uncertainty of his love was starting to crawl in my veins; because there was a hint of guilt that I heard, didn’t I?
“I gotta head to work, so sorry, but I’ll see you later?” he asked, kssing my cheek as he put his pants on hurriedly and grabbed the nearest shirt.
“Yeah, I’ll just hang out with Fi. No problem.” I slipped into last night’s summer dress, trying to find my shoes quickly so I could pass by the cemetery for a little chat with Keira.
As I found my shoes underneath the bed and stood up to place them on my feet, Ty wrapped his arms around me, placing his head on top of mine, “You see that girl in the mirror? I love that girl,” we faced the full-length mirror placed in his room. Behind us were stacks of clothes and suitcases, reminding me of the fact that the end is near. “And I’ll keep loving her from Poland, and wherever else I might be along the way. I promise” I smiled at the mirror, observing the odd-looking couple that was we. A somewhat 1.7 m guy who was at least twenty-three centimeters taller than his one-year-older girlfriend. Him with his olive complexion and me with a brown one, his curly hair versus my straight hair – the one thing we did have in common were our eyes, but even they were different – his eyes gleaming with a hint of darkness and mine shining brightly. We were an odd combination with very little in common, both appearance wise and material wise, but it had never seemed to fit better together.
“And I’ll love you, from all the way here where people walk around with feelings bottled up.” I said, dropping my smile. He turned me around, lifted my chin up, and said, “You’ll be okay. I’m only a phone call away.” He kissed my forehead one last time before squeezing my hand goodbye as we parted ways by the parking lot. I rode my bike over to cemetery and found Fi sitting there quietly with a rose in her hand, visiting whom we always visited.
“Great day to visit the dead, am I right?” she said sarcastically. Her make up was slightly ruined, some fragments of mascara was still stuck to her perfectly bronzed cheekbone; she’d been crying. She wore the same dress I did – the cream colored dress we bought for our 18th birthday, and Keira’s favorite dress.
“The weather is amazing, the sun is beaming, and there isn’t school for another two months or so, why wouldn’t we add a little grief to the mix?” I replied sarcastically back. I parked my bike by a tree and took my shoes off, placing them neatly next to the picnic blanket Fi was sitting, “How long have you been here?”
“I don’t know. Time flies when you’re having fun, you know.” This was the first time in a long time I had actually seen Fi grieve over Keira. I had seen her at the funeral, and I had seen her at the cemetery several times, but never had I seen her shed a tear. I thought about what Holden said in The Catcher in The Rye, about how people always make a fuss about buying flowers for the dead when they’re not even there, and I remembered how Keira loved Holden in a way none of us ever did and so we followed her wishes to the bone – even to the one where she wished not to receive flowers on her grave.
“Hey, you’re breaking the promise.” I nudged Fi lightly, trying to see how badly she was feeling.
She smiled at me, letting a tear run down her cheek, “Some people are worth breaking promises for.” We sat by her headstone in silence, letting the warm summer breeze brush against our legs, feeling the grief wash over us as we attempted not to cry in front of the other. But I felt that this was hard for Fi, much harder than any other day. I slid closer to Fi, wrapping my arm around her, giving her a gentle kiss on the head and I felt some more tears slide down her cheeks in silence. But just as I had kissed Fi’s head slightly, I had forgotten that I was wearing lip-gloss and lip-gloss and hair weren’t always the best combination so I abruptly made weird noises with my mouth in attempt to get the residue out. She laughed at my misfortune, “You’re really bad at this whole ‘let’s-console-my-best-friend-thing’, and you know that right?”
“Hey! I almost got there, my lip gloss just ruined it for me…” I said, pouting my lips in an attempt to seem adorable.
I offered her a tissue and she wiped away her tears with them whilst saying, “I didn’t know it was going to be so hard today, you know? Some days… I’m fine. I don’t think about her. It’s like it never really happened and she just went traveling for a month. But some days, like today, it washes over me and I’m drowning. I’m drowning and I can’t feel anything else but the water filling up my lungs. I just don’t know what to do about it. You know?” I understood Fi. I understood everything about it. I understood the feeling she got in her gut every time she saw a photo of her. I understood everything and at the same time I understood nothing. How could someone be here one minute and be gone the next?
“Come on, let’s go home.” I said, carefully wiping away her tears, “We’ll go home and we’ll watch Mean Girls and we’ll drink Tequila ’til we can’t remember this pain.” She didn’t smile, she didn’t even move, but one of us had to or we’d be stuck in this place forever – in this prison that we’d built. I picked her up, carrying her weight on my shoulder as I put her on the backseat of my bike, feeling her lingering gaze as we biked away from Keira.
Seventy-nine days before
“Heeeeello, earth to Zo! I’m bored. Can we do something?” Fi yelled at me from across the hall. It had been a week since we visited Keira and Fi acted like she hadn’t said the things she had. Fi was walking on air and nothing could drag her down; not even the feeling in her gut that made her feel like drowning. I couldn’t get her words out of my head, I’m drowning, and I can’t feel anything else but the water filling up my lungs, it felt like she meant a lot more than those words could convey but I couldn’t figure it out.
“Are you getting out of bed or do I have to make my own fun?” she said with a bored face. I couldn’t blame her, I really couldn’t. All we’d done since last week was sit in here and watch television. There were no parties to go to, no errands to run, and no boyfriends to see at the moment. We were free. Totally, ridiculously, amazingly free. And we were bored out of our minds.
“There’s nothing to do Fi! What are we supposed to do, walk around until the universe hands us somewhere fun to go?” She sulked, slid down to the floor with her cellphone in hand, endlessly scrolling.
“Yes. Maybe. Or we could go to this party I just found online.” She said with a smile on her face, almost jumping out of joy. “It says here anyone can show up, it’s around here anyways.”
I took the phone from her, my eyes growing bigger as I saw the guest list and specifically one person on it – most of my exes. “Fi, we can’t go to this. Half my exes are going to be there. This is ridiculous. I’m staying.”
“Uuuughh, fine! Be boring!” Fi said as she slammed my door. I thought Fi was really mad at me and almost got out of bed until she peeked my door open, said with a tender voice, “I’m not mad at you. Sorry if I made it seem like that. See you later, love you” and shut my door. I heard her close the door to the main entrance, locking it behind her.
When I opened my eyes again it was evening, 20:03, but the sun was still out and the weather was still fairly warm judging from the thermostat. I grabbed my purse and phone, walked out wearing the scuba skirt I had napped in and a white tank top, and went to grab a smoke. I walked a few metres, far away for my neighbors not to see my but not far away for it being too much of a walking distance. I grabbed my Marlboro Gold 100s – the packaging was white and classy – and lit a cigarette with my tiny pink lighter. Inhale. The warmth spread all inside my lungs, heating up the cold interior of my body. Exhale. I’m cold again. Inhale. I looked off into the distance, watching the kids in a neighboring park run around with their parents and laughing incessantly. I was happy for them and I was jealous of them at the same time – I wanted that. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be so happy I laughed in a way that made people hate me. I just needed to be happy so bad.
“Thinking about how to eradicate world hunger?” It was Daniel, “Well, I can tell you it’s not by smoking. Those things will kill you.”
I laughed, how many times hadn’t I heard that before? “Most things will kill you if you let them.”
“Then why are you letting them?” he said pointing at the pack next to me. Truth be told, this was the first time anyone had actually asked why I let them kill me. Most people take a look at you, see your cigarettes, and assume you’re leaning towards a death sentence. But they’ve got it all backwards. It’s not like that at all.
“I’m not letting it kill me. I’m deciding.”
“I’m deciding to kill before being killed.”
“Is this some kind of literature geek thing? I mean, I saw those books on those shelves but I never really thought you’d be a lit major…”
I couldn’t help but smirk at that. “I’m just saying, the cigarette itself isn’t killing me. I am killing me by lighting it. But what I’m also saying is that I’d rather choose death than have death choose me.”
“So… it’s a sick kind of power play?” he said, with a hint of seriousness in his tone. His jaw tensed as he asked the question, hinting that he may be repulsed by my thoughts but also slightly intrigued.
“You could call it that. I call it taking control.” I took the last drag, inhaling the last ounce of heat I could get, dropping it on the ground and squashing it with my flip-flops. “What are you doing here?” I say. I tried to act casual, act as if his sparkling blue eyes weren’t piercing through my soul, seeing what I actually meant by the kill or be killed thing.
“I live here, remember? I saw you from the window and figured I’d come out.” I suddenly felt stupid. Stupid for trying to act cool. Stupid for trying to be that cool literature girl who smokes cigarettes every once in a while.
“Oh okay.” Stupid for not finding the words to rectify this awkward situation.
“Hey,” he said, breaking my train of thought, “could I bum a cigarette?”
“I thought those things killed you?”
“I’m in the habit of keeping an open mind and living a reckless life.”
“Oh ye? What other reckless things do you do? Do drugs? Go bungee jumping? Swim with sharks?”
“Well, if you really want to know…” his voice turned dark, hoarse, and secretive. He looked around as if to see if we were being watched, his eyes turned a shade darker and I swear I had chills running up and down my arms. He lit the cigarette, slowly inhaling the smoke the same way I did. Waiting until the kids on the other side of the street crossed our block, whispered in my ear and said, “Sometimes I stay up past my bedtime and make movies.” I looked at him, not sure whether or not I should laugh, he gave me a little smirk, one of those that say you-have-no-idea-about-the-shit-I’m-into.
“What kind of movies?” I could feel my pulse racing, every neuron in my body firing, ready to either run, or fight. My mind was filled with horses galloping around trying to find any possible alternative, did he mean movies as in X-rated movies, and oh my god was he in the porn industry?
He looked deep into my eyes and took ahold of my face; I will never forget the next words he said because after that I couldn’t look at him the same.
“I make movies that shock, movies that many people don’t really want to see,” he whispered into my ear, “I make indie movies.” He pulled himself back from my ear, laughing so hard at himself that he had to walk away for a few seconds before returning. His cigarette was still lit, he took another drag. I couldn’t decide what to say or what to do so I sat there. I sat there quietly, stunned, mesmerized by his storytelling technique. And I was angry. Angry at him for him telling such a convincing story.
“I am going to kill you.” I said, seriousness growing in my tone for every second that passed, “So you better run before I catch you and light you on fire.” I took out my pink little lighter but that only made him laugh harder. I couldn’t help it but I laughed too. It looked so stupid, here I was: a tiny feminine person with flip-flops on her feet, hair in braids like a little school girls, and a tiny pink lighter in my hand. I dropped to the ground and laughed. Laughed harder than I had these past days. Harder than I had with Tyler in a long time.
“No but seriously. I am going to kill you!”
“Why? ’Cause I’m not in the porn industry and you can’t blackmail money out of me?” he said, laughing once again.
“No! Because you told such a convincing story and it wasn’t true.” I said, “You don’t get to do that! You don’t get to trick someone into believing your story and then just pull the rug out from underneath his or her feet. That’s foul play!”
“That’s what creativity’s about, baby,” he winked at me and stole another cigarette from my pack. He took another drag of the cigarette, extending it to me as a gesture of sharing what we thought of now as our shared pack, “You want the twists and turns, you don’t want easy. Nobody does. Monotone life ain’t for everybody.”
“And neither is grammar, you know ain’t is only marginally accepted in vernacular English, right?”
“Then you should know that a sentence shouldn’t start with a conjunction. BOOM, clap, Daniel out!” he shouted dropping his cigarette. The symbolism was not lost on me. I couldn’t believe that in the last hour he had lied to me, winked at me, dropped the mic, and acted like we were best friends. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel great to be there with him. In the moment, where the sun was beaming but wasn’t too hot, where it wasn’t too dark but not too light either; where the line between day and night never really touch but slightly graze upon the other.
We were out there for a couple more hours, I don’t know how long but I do remember watching Fi walk back to our apartment complex, shoes in hand. I excused myself to go help her up to the apartment, she seemed like she had a couple of drinks. I didn’t want to cut the night short but I got this horrible feeling the minute I saw Fi standing outside the gate for what seemed like forever. I ran over to her and asked her what was wrong but she wouldn’t answer. She just looked at me, tears streaming and I knew something horrible must have happened. I walked her upstairs, hoping I wouldn’t lose yet another friend.
Seventy-five days before
It had been four days since Fi broke down in my arms, crying until the only thing left were heaving noises and snot all over her, and my, t-shirt. She hadn’t been able to make coherent sentences after I had taken her into my arms, but in between panicked breaths and loud sobs the same words I had heard before were repeated, “I’m so sorry.” I knew what she meant but didn’t dare to bring up the past just yet. I held her until all that was tormenting her finally subsided into sluggish snuffles of slumber.
“Can we stay in bed all day?” Fi said, her voice hazy with torpidity.
“Sure,” I responded, resuming to my duty as her snuggle buddy of the day.
“Myeah?” I had one arm around her as the other was scrolling through profiles on Facebook.
“I’m sorry. You know that, right?” I admit, I was startled by her asking because truth was, I hadn’t forgiven her yet. I didn’t think I ever would.
“I know.” My smile was in a pin straight line as I uttered those two words in a low voice. “Hey. How about we go see Keira? It’s nice weather out. Could cheer us up.” Fi looked at me, her eyes shinier than they should have been. “We’ll toast to a late midsummer and all that awaits for us in our near future. Even in the afterlife.” Her eyes lush green eyes not moving, a strand of hair falling at the end of her jawbone, perfectly framing the beauty and sadness she radiates simultaneously.
“Okay,” she had begun saying, “but only for a little while. I don’t feel very well.” I nodded my head and kissed her head, appreciating her doing this at all. We got out of bed, untangling our four-day-old non-showered hair, and putting them up in identical buns. We wore matching jumpsuits in baby pink with gladiator sandals. Had anybody seen us walking along on the streets, they would have thought we were twins. Fiona with her grassy green eyes in perfect unison with my hazel brown, her strawberry blonde locks in concordance with my amber brown pin-straight hair. We were so different and still so in sync. Our duo was foolproof.
If only our trio had remained that way.
We brought with us a picnic blanket, some champagne glasses, and a bottle of champagne that Isabelle had bought for us a while back; leading the illegal life was bliss. Her grave felt farther into the woods than usual and during the night the woods seemed scarier and more in touch with the dead – had this been a movie, Fi and me would be dead meat by now.
It was 23:01, nearing midnight and the sun had finally gone down, the children in the nearby neighborhood long asleep. We set everything up; the bottle, the glasses, and the journal we’d brought along with us.
“You ready for this?” I asked Fi, giving her hand a squeeze of reassurance.
“I think so.” She took the journal and started reading a passage she’d written not too long ago. “Dear future Keira, you’re probably hella famous right now and you’re probably walking along the beach with you new beau talking about where you’ll go next, using your endless supply of money. Your hair is dyed in another color, it’s June so it’s probably lilac – that’s how you said June always felt like. It was the craziest thing I’d heard, I mean, how could a month feel like a color and not a feeling? You always were the craziest and man do I wish you were here right now with me and Zo,” she smiled at me as a way of announcing that she needed another squeeze of reassurance, “I know your hair isn’t lilac and I know you’re not living the life on a beach right now, because you’re gone. You aren’t here anymore and I just wish you had said goodbye, because that’s what actually hurts the most. The goodbye, and the absence of it.” I took the journal out of Fi’s hands; afraid her tears may remove the barely visible ink, from months of lying in a box in the attic.
We sat on the blanket for a while, nearing midnight and the chirping birds, toasting to the death, and absence of death, of our long lost friend.
Seventy-four days before
“What are you doing today?” Tyler asked me, chewing some snack, making loud noises right next to the microphone of the phone.
“I don’t know. I don’t have anything planned. Do you?”
“No. Not really.”
“Do you wanna go out? Maybe sit on a bench somewhere, talk, make out, and everything in between those stages?” I smiled at the thought of his lips, his lips which so gracefully caress mine and every other spot on my body.
“I’d love to. Let me call you back in a couple of hours and I’ll give you the bat signal to meet me outside.” The delight in his voice louder than ever.
Anyone who said that absence makes the heart grow fonder clearly hadn’t met me. Absence didn’t make my heart grow fonder – it just made my heart go crazy and my hormones go all over the place. My heart was breaking, the absence of my other half so far away was making me crazy, yearning for his touch and all the tingles they brought with them.
Pending his phone call I went home to show my parents I was still alive. I hadn’t been home in a couple of days, spending my days in Fi’s loft, awaiting the fury my parents may throw my way. But the truth was, I wasn’t too worried. They hadn’t done any real parenting since Daniel went away, leaving me as the only problem child they had and the only real problems I had caused them – as far as they know – is forgetting to pay my phone bill once or twice, allowing them to lecture me on money and responsibility and all that crap. I was still pissed off on the school system for not teaching me how to do that, I mean, they taught me how to calculate the integral of equations I could never use in a supermarket but lord forgive them if they’d ever teach me anything useful like paying my phone bill.
I neared the yellow-painted house. The house I had spent my eighteen living years in until I stopped coming by so often, only visiting to remind my parents that they had a daughter. The walls were freshly painted, the garden trimmed by the gardeners, and my mother sitting by the pool reading the latest gossip magazine in her sundress that my father had given her all those years ago.
“Hello mother,” I snuck in through the bushes, startling her so much that she nearly spilled frozen lemonade over her dress.
“Hello daughter, are you being a hospitable guest?” I hated when she did that. I hated when talked to me like I was somebody she was grooming to become just like her. Why couldn’t she just talk to me like a normal person?
“Actually. I just set their place on fire and he kicked me out, oops!” I sat myself down on the chair beside her and poured myself a glass, “They love me mother. I don’t make a noise.”
“Good. We don’t want people hearing anything bad about you.” She smiled when she said this but I could sense the anger in her tone. I had already made a mockery of her when I had decided to spend some days a week at Julian’s and according to her it took a lot of damage control to get my – her – reputation back in check. I made a snarky face at her as she got up to leave, no longer able to withstand my presence, “I saw that Zoe, put on some sunscreen or come inside.” I decided to ignore her, a lame attempt to go against her. Even after my eighteen years on this planet, even after being my own legal guardian in the eyes of the law, she still held all the cards in her hand.
“Mom’s right you know,” David said as he entered the sundeck, “you’re gonna get burnt if you don’t have any sunscreen on and if you keep squinting your eyes are gonna go blind before you turn twenty-five.” He threw me a bottle of lotion and my prescribed Ray-Ban sunglasses.
“Well, aren’t you being the considerate older brother?”
“You know it.” His face radiated with sarcasm right before he jumped into the pool and splashed water all over me.
“David!” my mother and I yelled simultaneously.
“What have we said about jumping into the pool?” she said from the window above, an angry smile plastered on her smile in case the neighbors might be viewing the show from afar.
“To do it with class?” he replied wittily but quickly recognized the look on her face, “sorry mom, I’ll try not to do it again.”
“Don’t try David dear, just don’t.” she closed the window loudly, the back door waving a bit from the force felt, as a sign as not to mess with her or even to talk to her for the next couple of hours. The ice queen was back in season.
David swimmed back to the edge of the pool, resting his chin at the edge, “She’s been like this the past couple of days, sales must have been or something. She’ll get over it soon enough.” He shrugged off her anger like it was nothing, not even trying to disguise the satisfaction he gained from rattling her.
“Aren’t you the model son?” I flipped through the women in the pages bragging about their success and how they came to be their, their bodies yelling ‘I do Pilates every day’ but the words spewing out of their mouths revealing that they don’t work out a single day but only eat clean. Liars. I was infuriated by the lies my mother read and the lies she’d fed me in return, and the fact that I did nothing about it enraged me even more.
“Easy there, your vein is about to pop” he grinned as he attempted to splash water at me, not quite reaching me. I flipped him off and started undressing to my underwear and made a quiet and respectable splash that my mother would approve of. “You up for a party tonight?”
“What party? I haven’t heard of one happening until, like, next week.”
“Exclusive my dear sister,” he smiled and patronizingly touched my chin, “this is an exclusive party with a special crowd. None of that hillbilly crap you go to.”
“Then why are you inviting a hillbilly like me?”
“I’m allowed to bring people. Besides, is it really that bad that I want to spend some time with my sister?”
“We could just stay in and play Monopoly my dear brother, why not that?” I smiled and caressed his cheek patronizingly, “is it ’cause you have a hidden agenda?”
“Fine,” he slapped my hand away, “you got me. I need booze and a wingman.”
“Can I bring Tyler?”
“Who else is going to be my wingman?”
“I’m serious. You’re the worst, but Ty is good at what he does. The fact that you’ve been together for so long is a miracle.” He laughed and said it sarcastically but I couldn’t shake it off because the truth was, even I was surprised that he had stayed with me for so long. I was confident in our relationship but Tyler had been the kind of guy I used to stay away from – the guy who only participated in short term relationships and then threw them away – because it could only lead to bad things.
“We’ll be there, I’ll make a call and make sure he shows up. But you owe him, you know how much he hates alcohol induced settings.”
“Yeah yeah little sis, easy on the parenting.” He splashed water on me, the microscopic bursts leading to a huge water fight in the pool, the occasional neighbors checking in to see that we hadn’t actually drowned each other.
“Easy on the splashing kids, you don’t want your mother finding out her flowers have been drowned by her kids!” our father had arrived home, walking through the same path I had.
“Daddy!” David and I yelled in agreement, thrilled to see the essence of my father in real life. It had been so long since our father had been home, heading off here and there on business trips, however, me and David had long suspected he only took those to get away from our mother and stone cold demeanor.
“Come swim with us dad!” David yelled to our father, completely pertaining to our father’s childish side.
“Oh, I am much too old for that. And between us,” he said coming closer to us, “I don’t think your mother would enjoy the display of affection between her kids and their father.” He was referring to their forthcoming divorce, the one that had been hanging in the air for months. They hadn’t always been like this, there had been a time when they would hold each other in their arms late at night on the patio watching the stars and reciting quotes from novels they liked, laughing like there hadn’t been a care in the world.
He walked away with briefcase in hand, probably divorce papers awaiting signature, and left David and me to the pool and the pleasures it brings to two teens in the midst of summer. But we couldn’t stay here because we knew there would come a wave of screams in a matter of minutes, we had to break it up before it got too loud and even the neighbors would notice. Despite the distance between the houses there was still the possibility that our neighbor Mrs. Twinkleton would overhear everything and report it to her senior bridge club, all of who knew mother and had a hand in whether or not she’ll be allowed back at the club she’d joined last fall.
We walked in on the two of them standing in the kitchen exchanging sad kisses on the cheeks, we had gotten here just before they’d exchanged real phrases. David butted in and offered to cook a family meal, a last meal before Dad would fly off to Bangkok tomorrow for yet another business trip. David was good at diversions; he was the master of them after having used them so many times to get out of trouble.
“We don’t have much in the fridge,” my mother started saying, making it look like she didn’t want the dinner to happen at all but quickly reclaimed her intentions by asking, “Could you take your sister and go buy something from the store?” We accepted her invitation gladly, finally seeing a shred of humanity in her since who knows how long.
We walked to our nearby mall and in the middle of our walk I texted Tyler, hoping he would come with us to the party.
“Loverboy resisting?” David asked, “If he doesn’t feel comfortable just tell him to give me a call and I’ll talk to him.” I was quite frankly surprised at David’s generosity, never had he been forthcoming to Tyler since we had gotten together.
“Why are you so nice? You always make fun of me and him.”
“I’m only two minutes younger than you.”
“Like I said, little sis, I’ve been friends with him since we were little. Just because you’re together doesn’t mean I still don’t know the guy.”
“You don’t even talk to him anymore.”
He shrugged his shoulders, “We had a falling out. Doesn’t mean I don’t love the guy. He used to be my best friend, and now he’s yours. That’s just what happens.”
We walked the remaining metres in silence, inhaling the crisp air as it hit our bare legs. It was 19:17, only a couple of minutes left until the store was closing but we would make it with just enough time to distractedly rummage through every aisle until we found something we would like.
The local supermarket wasn’t a place most people would like to call a hang out spot but I had always found that it soothed me to go grocery shopping, always finding the same products in the same aisle; never disappointing me by changing their location or price. We walked, grabbing a green basket each and started combing through lanes and finding the items we were most in the mood for.
I walked by the cheese aisle, trying to pick out a cheese that would suit our meal the best, only to find David to be doing the exact same, shooting me a smile that said, “Potatoes au gratin?” I smiled and nodded, dropping my basket by the chips because we’d only need one basket for what we were making. We were going to make our parents the course they’d fallen in love over. Whenever they would tell the story they would always smile and sincerely give each other a hand squeeze, maybe David and I could pull of a parent trap and make them fall in love all over again.
We cooked them the perfect meal, David and I in complete sync and our parents sipping glasses of wine outside on the patio with the sun just about setting. For the first time in months, the house felt like a house, not just a vacant beach house like it had all those times before.
“How does it taste mom?” I asked her, emphasizing the word ‘mom’, to remind her the subtle difference between the regular ‘mother’ and ‘mom’.
“Delicious Zoe, you and your brother did well.” She raised her glass, “Kudos my dear children.” The way my mother said children felt different, it carried a tone of joy in it, whatever our father had said to her when we weren’t here had to have gotten her in good spirits.
And then came the news. The, oh so devastating, news.
We were moving.
We were selling our childhood home to move to another country because dad had found another job and mother could retire and spend her days lounging about at home.
David and I were speechless, only watching them as if they were part of a show where they prank people, waiting for the moment when the camera crew shows up.
“Mother, daddy, you can’t sell the house!” I whined.
“What Zoe said!” My brother screaming the words, more at unease than I certainly was, “You can’t sell this house. We’ve lived here since we were small and dad’s parents before that. It’s an heirloom in itself. For the sake of tradition don’t do this.” My brother was pleading, he may have not been here the last couple of months, but he did love the house more than I did since he’d spent his entire childhood indoors and not outdoors, afraid of all the bugs and birds which could possible attack him from out of nowhere.
“Children,” my mother’s hostility was returning and she put on her formal tone, “the decision is final. Besides, you’re both going off to college, why not get a new start?”
“Because we’re going off to college! We need a home to come home to, not a villa in wherever it is that you’re shipping off to! My college and friends may not be here,” David answered, ready to go on full argumentative with my parents, “but Zoe is going to stay here, her best friends are here and she is going to study here. You can’t pull her out of a place she’s been all her life because it suits you.” David was protecting me, god bless my brother for having a heart as big as the vast ocean. “If you do this…”
“What?” my mother intercepted, “You’ll run away again? You’ll drag your sister with you too? Guess we won’t have to buy a villa with too many bedrooms then.” The kitchen fell silent, the only sound echoing was the sound of David’s knife just scratching my mother’s good china, which was probably going to spark another fight.
“Priscilla…” my father started saying, his voice low and calm unlike my mother’s.
“No Harold,” she said in defiance, “you might be okay with your children behaving this way but I’m not. We’re moving, and that’s final!” she removed the napkin from her lap and stormed upstairs, caging herself in her bedroom.
“David, she didn’t mean it, she’s just in one of her moods.” My dad said, trying to calm down my brother.
“Whatever dad, why don’t you go upstairs? Zoe and I will clean this up.” My brother was doing his best not to blow up; cleaning was his way of confining the anger.
We washed the dishes in silence, none of us ready to break the barrier of what had been said already. The pressure of the lack of words was taunting my vocal chords. I had always had such an easy time with words and the one time my brother needed to hear them I couldn’t deliver.
“You still wanna go to the party?” I asked David, almost instantly regretting my words.
“At this point,” he retorted, “it’s the only thing keeping me going.” We kept washing dishes until the only thing left to wash was sins of our previous lives. We agreed to leave after our parents had falling asleep, ensuring that there wouldn’t be a blowup, ruining our moods further.
Patience. I hear her voice in the back of my mind. One breath in, one breath out. You survived yet another second. Smile, you’ve already wasted too many seconds on frowns and wrinkles.
We snuck out at 22:43, recognizing the loud snores of each parent as our cue to sneak out. The perk of living in a villa was that no matter how much noise you made downstairs, you’d never hear it if you were upstairs. Even less if you were already fast asleep.
We took dad’s car, knowing very well where he left his keys and how to restore the seat back when we returned. I hooked my phone up to the stereo, putting on Avril Lavigne’s Here’s to Never Growing Up, finding it more than appropriate when I saw David’s smile in the rearview mirror.
“Why are you sitting on the back and not in the front?” David queried me, me completely forgetting that this wasn’t what people usually did.
“Isabelle tells me I’m a bad shotgun person and that my music is bad,” David raises his eyebrow in the mirror, “so she always puts me in the backseat. I guess I’m just used to it.”
He let out a chuckle, one of those chuckles that fill the room with warmth. “Is she doing okay? Last I checked, she wasn’t very fond of school.”
“Oh, she still isn’t. But she’s still a natural at getting good grades.”
“Make any other friends this year?” I wasn’t used to being quizzed by David, mostly because we’d never been apart before. Not until he moved to France that is.
“Uhm, I guess?” I wasn’t quite sure how to answer. The last time I had introduced him to a friend he’d ended up dating her, and she’d ended up breaking his heart. I wasn’t sure I was ready to introduce him to Fi, knowing very well that they would be the best of friends if not more, and I wasn’t confident I wanted her to be with him, no matter how much I loved her.
“Anyone worth getting to know?” he glanced at me over his shoulder, awaiting the green light and my answer.
“Nope, not really.” I responded quicker than I had to, “And anyways. They’re old news. I’ll make new friends.”
“Yeah. Unless mom homeschools you.” David snapped. He hadn’t let go of his hostility towards mom and her scene at the dinner table.
I scooted forward, placing my elbows on each side of the headrests in front of me, my head leaning towards David, “Let’s forget her. I’ll try and smooth-talk dad in the morning and see what we can figure out. And if worst comes to worst, we’ll live with dad. Which means we’ll be living on our own.” I tried to make him smile but with no success. “Anyways, you’re going back to France, why do you care so much?” I knew I had hit a nerve asking him that, the vein in his forehead developing, and his grip on the steering wheel tighter – the classic signs of a confession.
“I’m moving back home Zo. I’m not going back next year.” The air feels placid, the particles of air no longer there even though I know it’s not physically possible for us to live in a vacuum.
“But you said… What happened?” I whispered, afraid my words weren’t audible.
He shrugged his shoulder, not responding to the drivers advancing around him, “I think it’s time to come back. I can’t run away just because it gets hard.” His lips twitch as if they are about to say something else but nothing transpires out of the corners of his mouth. I slouch back into my seat, the seatbelt crushing into my throat making me feel nauseous, and my ankle itching so hard it feels like it’s burning. “I don’t want to fulfill mother’s prophecy.” He mumbles the words as I choke back my tears, afraid of what will happen once my brother comes back to live with us and stopped being a distant memory. I both loved and hated his presence, which I did more I couldn’t decide.
The day had been long, and it only got longer when we got to the party. We found the rich kids, my brother’s former friends, still lounging by the pool despite the fact that it wasn’t that hot anymore. I found Tyler standing over by a group of guys, obviously not fitting in with them as he wore khakis and some t-shirt, not aware of the dress code they had implemented. I watched him from afar, waiting for the signal that said ‘Please be my princess in shining armor and save me!’ After twenty minutes of stealing his smiles from afar and making funny faces I finally got the signal.
“Hey Tyler,” I said, giving him a quick and nice hug, “and everyone else.”
“Hey Zoe, long time no see,” he said, trying to get out of the conversation he was having with the group, “let’s go catch up!”
“Smooth,” I said, snickering, and playfully hitting his chest, at his lame attempt of escape the rich kid mafia. We took a walkthrough of the house, opening doors here and there to find a room for some long lost quality time.
“You know,” I started saying as we entered a room with a key to lock it, “it’s so tough keeping this thing secret. Why can’t we tell them? They don’t know anyone you do.”
“You know how I feel about it… I’m sorry, I just… Not them.” I nodded at his response, acquainted with the answer each time I had asked. At this point of our relationship, only a handful of people knew about us and due to the circumstances of our relationship, it probably would stay that way for quite some time. The price you have to pay when your families have conflicting religions and traditions.
“But, you have to admit,” he started to say, locking the door behind him, “all this sneaking around is quite the adventure.” His hand was on my knee, about to rise any time now.
I smiled at his proposition, “I do admit, the stolen smiles and the almost getting noticed is quite fun.” I kissed him, softly enough for him to want more and ravish me. I bit my lip and looked at him innocently, batting my lashes at him, hoping it would send the right message. Within minutes we had undressed, taken comfort in the sheets of somebody else’s bed, ignoring the fact that this was completely wrong but succumbing to the mere pleasure being bad brought.
He dozed off almost immediately after, lowly wheezing into my chest, his rib cage slowly rising in between breaths, the feeling of his rugged hands on my back – I was going to miss this, the feeling of being completely dazzled by the inactivity of a person. His hair was in tufts, urging me to straighten them out, but all I wanted to do was take a photo of this, capturing the moment forever. I was going to have this; soon this would all be mine, no matter what the obstacles were.
I wriggled out of his hold, walked over to the window wearing and putting on his t-shirt, watching the people outside. They were all asleep, tangled up in each other to preserve heat, bottles scattered all over the deck. I watched my brother, tangled up in the chest of another girl. He was in the presence of another girl who wasn’t Keira and for the first time in a while it hurt not to see them together. As much as I hated the thought of David and him staying because it would remind me of all the pieces Keira gave to him and not me, remind me that the girl he would meet next would be her replacement, it would’ve hurt more not to see him at all, even more if he weren’t happy.
I watched my brother from afar, envious of his ability to fall asleep wherever and whenever, completely oblivious to the world for a couple of hours. I resented him, more so our father for passing it on to me, but I also resented myself for keeping myself up with the horrid thoughts at night, unable to turn my mind of like so many others. I wished I could drift off into sleep, to not have to worry about which bad thoughts were going to keep me up tonight, or haunt me in my dreams, which version of the affair I’d see next. The thoughts in my head trotting around like horses at a racetrack, except there was no cash prize for me at the end of the race, only bundles of tears pooling at the edge of my pillow.
Seventy-three days before
When we drove home we were in trouble because 1) we hadn’t returned the car before our parents had woken up and 2) we’re weren’t supposed to take the car at all without one of them inside it.
“Do you realize how much trouble you two are in?” my mother started yelling as she approached us in the driveway.
“A lot, I guess?” David snapped back, rubbing his forehead, probably throbbing from a hangover.
“Don’t you dare use that tone with me!” my mother was furious, her vein bigger than mine and David’s combined, my father watching us all from afar, ready to intervene in case she went overboard, “Do you have any idea how worried we were? Did you not have the decency to leave a note?”
“Why are you reacting, mother?” I found myself saying and before I could stop myself, the words were spewing out of my mouth, “I mean, you had no problem sending David away, you didn’t even try to make him stay. And me? Well, I’m barely home anymore, god forbid I am at home and then you’re only telling me everything I do wrong. Do you realize that I could be doing drugs right now? That I could be going out every day and drink, screwing every guy there is to screw-”
“Stop it Zoe,” my mother interrupted but it was of no use.
“And dad? Oh don’t even get me started on dad and how you treat him,” I continued, daring her with my words but it was of no use to even try to continue because as soon as I tried to open my mouth again my mother had slapped. The left side of my face was burning, even more so when she just walked away, leaving David and me alone in the driveway.
Dad walked over to us and tried to apologize for my mother’s behavior, but made no excuse to point out that we really were in the wrong and that I shouldn’t have said the things I did. I didn’t even try to argue with dad even though I had so much to say, so much about him and what she was doing towards him. He made it his final note to ground the two of us for two weeks, no leaving the house or there’d be consequences, but I wasn’t worried, dad was flying out today and mother never noticed my presence anyways. Staying in a no-parent household meant there was no such word as ‘grounding’.
David and I stalked off to our individual rooms, going to bed once again, him trying to sleep off his hangover and me trying to sleep off my life. For a while I just lay in bed texting Tyler, telling him how I’d gone on a rampage against my mother, him trying to calm me down until I was able to have an intelligible conversation. After my conversation with him ended, I started receiving texts from David and as strange as it felt texting somebody across the hall, I went along with it.
David: Your cheek okay?
David: You didn’t have to do that, you know.
Me: I know. But I did. Shut up and sleep.
David: Love you, little sis.
Me: Love you too, big brother.
Seventy-two days before
From: Zoe (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: Dad (Harold.email@example.com]
Date: June 30th, 2014 at 07:34
Subject: Daddy I miss you (and please don’t sell the house)
It has been one day since I last saw and my heart already aches for you – at least that’s what you were hoping to hear, right? Sorry daddy, I’m here on business. You. Cannot. Sell. The. House. Please. David wants to stay (did he tell you that yet? If not, oops, sorry I ruined the surprise) and he needs somewhere to stay. You’ll probably say that he can stay in France with his friends – but daddy, his friends are here, his life is here. He may have left us, but he came back, because he needs us. And he needs this house because it cherishes all of us. Please don’t take that away from my brother, don’t let something else be taken away from us.
Love always, Zoe
P.S. I really do miss you though, you need to stop taking so many trips. Maybe then mother would stop being such a witch.
P.P.S Witch wasn’t the word I wanted to use, but you catch my drift.
From: Dad (Harold.firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: Zoe (email@example.com)
Date: June 30th, 2014 at 09:42
Subject: RE: Daddy I miss you (and please don’t sell the house)
I don’t understand what it is you want me to do. Yes, I do know, your brother told us the other day and we are very pleased he has decided to stay the forthcoming semesters but we have already put the house on the market. I am going to get a great job; it will be a fantastic adventure for all of us! You’ll love it, I promise.
Sincerely, your father
P.S. Don’t call your mother that, she probably wouldn’t appreciate it.
From: Mother (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: Zoe (email@example.com)
Date: June 30th, 2014 at 09:47
I’m sorry for last night.
Do forgive me.
Best regards, Priscilla Whitaker
From: Zoe (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: Dad (Harold.email@example.com]
Date: June 30th, 2014 at 11:43
Subject: RE: RE: Daddy I miss you (and please don’t sell the house)
I do not think you understand what moving will do to us; it will probably break us and we will never talk to you or mother ever again, and that’s best case scenario of the move, let’s not discuss the worst case scenario. Please, please, please daddy, just re-consider.
Love always, Zoe
From: Dad (Harold.firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: Zoe (email@example.com)
Date: June 30th, 2014 at 12:01
Subject: RE: RE: RE: Daddy I miss you (and please don’t sell the house)
I make no promises about the move, at the moment we have put the house on the market and I am strongly considering the new job but things may change in the near future. Because you and your brother feel so strongly about the move, let’s hope that something goes wrong (although, I am quite excited about the new job, but I guess I will have to pretend for your sake). Anyways, answer the e-mail your mother sent you, she feels incredibly guilty and could need some forgiveness.
Sincerely, your father
P.S. I mean it about e-mailing her!
From: Zoe (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: Mother (email@example.com)
Date: June 30th, 2014 at 12:05
All is forgotten.
Seventy-one days before
I woke up at ten o’clock, much earlier than usual, the heat from the sun seeping through the blinds of my windows. I groaned out of fatigue, cursed the sun for waking people up so early. I checked my phone and I had four unread text messages – all from Tyler. I tried to recall if we had made plans but nothing crossed my mind. My heart hurt just as I read the first message. Then the second. Then the third. I couldn’t see by the time I read the fourth.
I couldnt sleep during the night and ive been having bad thoughts
I dont know what to do this is getting so hard between us
Our parents will never like each other they will never approve
We have to break up
I couldn’t breathe. I sat in my bed and I didn’t move because if I did I might’ve fallen apart. The cast holding me together would break and I would die. I would no longer be here because the only person to ever really be there for me was breaking up for me. My breathing was uneven and I was having a panic attack. I lay on my side trying to get my breathing even but it wouldn’t work. I called him, the endless tone of ringing never subsiding.
“Hi…” his voice was low and I thought I heard tears.
“What happened? Please tell me you’re joking in a sick twisted way. Please please please.” I was talking rapidly because if I allowed myself to slow down I would start crying and I didn’t want to cry.
“You know how nighttime is,” he was starting to whimper a bit, “once the bad thoughts flow in… they don’t stop. I don’t know what to do. I’m so sorry.”
“No no no, you don’t get to be sorry you just tell me that we are going to figure it out and we are going to have three wonderful kids.”
“Yes you can! You can if you want to!” I was screaming into the phone because I needed it to be untrue. I needed this to be a bad dream. Soon enough I would be waking up drenched in sweat but that would be okay because then the nightmare would be over.
“I can’t do anything about this. I can’t fix this.”
“You can’t do this to me. You swore you would never leave. You promised.”
“I can’t talk anymore, I am so sorry. It just makes me so sad to talk about this and to you. Talk later. I’m so sorry.” He hung up on me without waiting and I guess in hindsight that was good because I didn’t want him to hear me bawl my eyes out or scream in agony of the pain that had been inflicted upon my heart. I paced throughout my house, questioning the God I didn’t believe in, wrapping my head around the thousand things we could try to sort this out. But I came up blank. I was walking around the house, trying to reach Fi just so I could have someone to talk to but she wouldn’t answer and I threw my phone across the room. The screen cracked and I found it ironically funny how that was a metaphor for my heart at the moment.
I walked outside in my pajamas and smoked a couple of cigarettes because who the hell cared about my health now when I knew I wasn’t going to be able to take care of myself. I sat myself outside on the patio and didn’t care who walked by, my neighbors could go to hell and the parents were at work. The only one who could walk by was David and God knows what kind of shit he had done in France. I tried to wrap my head around it again but the tears kept streaming down my cheeks and every time I tried to wipe them away they just kept coming. A few kids walked by and snickered at me but all I could do was flip them off and keep killing the inside of my body.
At this moment, I hated my parents and I hated his parents. I hated them so much for keeping us apart. But I honestly couldn’t blame them because they didn’t even know about us. They unknowingly kept us apart and for that I couldn’t even yell at my parents. I couldn’t even tell them I was sad about this because they would just ground me for even dating and they would never again trust me. It was my fault for getting involved with someone, especially someone whose family would never accept me. I was so stupid, stupid for falling in love and stupid for trusting. I felt like a five year old who had just fallen on her bum with no mommy to rescue her. There are some moments in life where time just stops. But this wasn’t the case. I was going forwards in time and at the same time I was going backwards. And in real life the addition and subtraction signs don’t cancel out, they just create a whole mess.
I cried as I kept lighting cigarettes, contemplating my next steps. I went upstairs and grabbed my cellphone, careful not to put my cheek next to any sharp glass pieces, and called Tyler in hope of a response. But no, I got the voicemail, but at this point I was too upset to take no answer.
“You don’t get to do this. You don’t get to break up with me and then not talk to me,” I was losing my breath and for a minute or so I just cried, “You don’t get to make me love you, completely love you like an idiot, and then just leave! You don’t get to leave when you promised not to leave at all! Remember those times we were up all night just chatting about everything and nothing? Remember the first time I kissed you? Oh god, I can’t remember the last time I kissed you. Please please please pick up, I need you so bad right now… “ I hung up then because there was a certain limit to how desperate I could be. I was being stupid but he was too for not answering his phone. I understood him wanting space but could he not understand that I didn’t want space? The last thing I wanted was space; right now all I needed was someone who would hug me and tell me that everything would be okay. I called up Fi again but she wouldn’t answer. I was getting frustrated with the world and needed to get myself away from this house where my stupid parents resided. I changed into something more appropriate for the outside world. I grabbed some black jeans and a black top. I skipped the make up because, please, it would all run down my cheeks anyways. I walked all the way to Fi’s house which was much farther than I thought it was but I didn’t feel the exhaustion in my legs but rather in my head and in my eyes, which seemed to be have drained of any possible fluid.
I walked into the apartment, yelling her name, only to be met with the echo of my own voice. I dropped to the floor, pounding the floor with my fist and laying my body there. Quietly crying after someone to be there for me, missing anybody who had ever left me. Hating myself for being born with this intricate need for someone. I drowned myself in tears for what felt like hours until my phone rang again. I sprung up from the floor and answered it – Tyler.
“HELLO?” I was panting and I was loud but I couldn’t be bothered to care. I needed a response, I needed to hear his response, and I needed him to calm me down.
“I heard you message,” he was still sniffling, “but I can’t do anything. You know this. I crunched all the numbers and I tried every possible way but it doesn’t work like that. We won’t work.” He said it in such a matter of fact way that I thought I was talking to a scientist and not the loving boyfriend I once knew.
“You’re not trying. You’re giving up. You have to remember that I don’t give up!”
“I know. But I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do. I’m flying to the U.S. tomorrow and we won’t be able to see each other before that. I’m sorry we couldn’t do this in person.”
“That’s tomorrow? Please. Talk to your brother. See if there is anything we can do to still stay together. Maybe if he talks to your parents for us, maybe we can still be together then. Please. Don’t give up on us. “
“Okay. I have to go now. Bye.” I don’t know what hurt most – the fact that he sounded so painfully numb, that I didn’t know our label, or that he didn’t end the call with him telling me he loves me. I understood where he came from but it didn’t stop the pain. I had always been the one who loved more, and this just confirmed it. But I couldn’t give up, not just yet, not after two years. I found myself laying my head once again on the wooden floors, tears building a pool underneath my cheek.
“Zo? You home?” It was Fi, finally.
“In here,” I yelled, “I’m on the floor drowning in my tears.”
Fi came up from behind me and laid on the floor next to me, “What’s wrong honey?”
“We may or may not have broken up, I’m not sure.”
“I’m so sorry, what can I do?”
“Just hold me” and that’s what she did. Fi didn’t say a word but she held me as my breathing became uneven and wiped my tears away from time to time. She carried me up from the floor and put me in my bed underneath the covers when I had fallen asleep, still not leaving my side. I felt her breathing on my neck as I came to from my little nap and I heard her humming some song.
“What song is that?” I asked, startling her for a second.
“It’s something my mom used to sing for me whenever I got ill or sad,” she said, a glimmer in her eyes, “did I wake you?”
“No. Thanks for staying, I know this wasn’t the most fun.”
“Don’t worry about it, I need my boo-bear.” That made me smile for a bit. But as the moment passed and the words left my mind I suddenly remembered why I was here and the circumstances, which put me here. My body started shaking and Fi held me once again, if only this was how it could be forever. I turned over to face Fi, gazing into her eyes and seeing her mouth form a little smile.
“I love you, you know that right?” I said.
“I love you too.” She hugged me, laying my head on her chest so I could focus on her heartbeat rather than mine. Ultimately, her heartbeat is what put me back to sleep. The constant rhythm of her heart formed a melody – her melody. The very essence of Fi lay in that muscle. The heart is the strongest muscle is something I have heard my entire life but today it felt like it was the weakest.
“Baby girl,” Fi said waking me up, “I’m gonna run to the store to get some food, I think we’ll need it, do you want anything?”
“No, don’t be too long please. I need you.” She kissed my forehead goodbye as she left the apartment. Confined within the four walls of my room I felt my heartbeat in my ears, and I knew it was impossible but it felt like my ears were going to burst. I put on some music but every song I turned on reminded me of him, of every moment we had ever had. The tears started again and this time I couldn’t stop them. I left the apartment and went upstairs to see if Daniel could cheer me up. When I rang the doorbell a woman answered. She wore an oversized college sweatshirt with a scuba skirt that showed off her amazingly long legs.
“You’re Zoe, aren’t you?” she said taking in my appearance and then realizing the dry streams of tears marked upon my face, “Oh my god are you okay? Come in.”
“Uhm… my mom told me not to get into apartments with strangers. And even though you seem like a perfectly lovely lady I think I’m gonna stay out here. Just in case, you know.” I replied awkwardly.
She smiled at me as she said; “I applaud you for following your mother’s rules. But no need to be afraid of me.”
“That’s what they all say. I’m pretty good at this game. I watch a lot of crime shows.” I gave her a little smile and was ready to leave but was quickly hindered by a Daniel coming up from behind her, “Hey you seen my-“ he said into thin air, most likely to her but stopped mid-sentence as he saw me, ”Heeeey, fancy seeing you here, what you up to?”
I was stumped. I didn’t want to pour my heart out in front of this stranger but I didn’t want to seem dumbfounded. I need you, no that’s stupid. I’m really sad right now and I need someone to hold me and Fi just left so will you get rid of her and just hug me and maybe get me some tequila so I can cry in your arms? “Uhm. Fi just went out for some groceries. But she always takes forever, so I was wondering if you wanted to hang out. Yup. That’s why I’m here.” I stared at them both, trying to see if they bought my story. The girl hadn’t because she had seen my tear stricken eyes just as I rung the doorbell but maybe Daniel could be fooled.
“You know what? Dan, I gotta head to work,” she said as she tried to put her ballerina flats on, “I’ll see you tomorrow or something, kay? Love you.” She kissed him on the cheek and gave me half-hearted smile as she took of down the stairs. Neither of us moved until we heard the echo of the main door closing. You could feel the tension in the air as we just stared at one another. We could’ve stood there longer if I hadn’t broken into tears.
“Hey, hey, what’s wrong?” he said as he grabbed my hand and led me into the apartment. I couldn’t stop heaving and dropping tears on his carpet as I was walked into the living room.
“We… broke… up,” I said in between breaths, unable to fully grasp what I had just said, “actually… I don’t even know… it’s so complicated…” he looked at me as I rambled on an on about what happened. “I woke up and there were messages and he was thinking and it hurt his head and he didn’t know what to do because our parents hate each other, you know? Or we don’t know but they would never let us be together because we don’t come from the same country or have the same religion and it just hurts because I love him more than anything and he knows how to take care of me. I don’t know how to take care of me and he’s my best friend because he’s always there and I know I have Fi and Isabel and now you but I just need him so much more because he can give me things you guys can’t and I can’t breathe.” I was so out of breath after proclaiming all that I’d felt that I couldn’t stop coughing for breaths. It was painful but it was the physical pain that I longed for; anything for the pain inside my brain to subside. My chest finally ached physically rather than mentally. At least if there was physical pain then I could fix it, it was the mental part I couldn’t fix. “If you want me to leave I will, I know it’s strange that I just show up out of the blue and being frantic and just spitting out words that race in my mind at the speed of light but I really needed someone and we’ve had so much recently I just, I’m so sorry.”
He hadn’t been looking at me as I spoke, or I hadn’t noticed because I was facing the television to avoid his eyes because if I saw them I might collapse and be reminded of Tyler’s eyes. He turned his head to look at me, a creasing frown implanted in his forehead, “Why are you sorry? I’m your friend. I’m here for you. Tell me what you need me to do.” I took a moment to realize what I needed. What did I need? A hug? Food? Vodka? Food and vodka? Intimacy? I need him, I just need him to come back to me and fix it. But I couldn’t say that. I couldn’t say that to anyone but him and he wouldn’t talk to me at the moment.
“I don’t know. I just… I need something to be stable.” I didn’t know it at the moment but those words were going to haunt me in the future. They would always haunt me whether or not I wanted them to.
“I don’t know how to fix that. I think you’re the only one who can determine the stability of something,” he started saying, “you can’t let somebody else decide the stability of your life and I know that’s tough to hear but you’re the only one who can. I’m sorry if that hurts, and I’m sorry that you’re going through this, but just know that I’m here.” I didn’t know what to respond because he was right. I couldn’t let somebody else determine just how stable I was or how stable my life was to be. But that was my fatal flaw, my hamartia, I could never be stable. I wasn’t wired the way others were; I took things to heart and couldn’t let go. I tried to think of letting Tyler go, to let him fly to the U.S. and hope for something good but I didn’t know how to let go, I only knew how to be let go of.
“I just don’t know what to do. This, this scenario, it just feels so unreal. I mean. I’m eighteen, I just fucking graduated, and I’m supposed to be on top of the fucking world, but I’m not. And that’s what hurts.” I started biting my lip and tearing a tiny part of the skin on my thumb but I didn’t stop when I was supposed to and I got a big chunk of skin instead, and my thumb was oozing out with blood. “Shit” I said and started to cry because nothing was going okay anymore. How was I supposed to take care of myself, alone, when I couldn’t even care for my finger? When the slightest obstacle that comes in my way is enough to tip me over to the other side of the scale?
“I’ll take care of it,” Daniel said as he took a napkin from the nearby stand and told me to squeeze my finger, “I just gotta find the first aid kit, might be a while since everything is still in boxes.” He left me there on the floor with a bleeding thumb with nothing but a thin serviette holding together my broken thumb. Even as the blood was oozing out of me I still felt like there possible couldn’t be anything inside of me; that I was hollow. I wanted to knock on my head but I realized how dumb it would look because I knew there was something inside there, the control center of my existence. I looked at my arms, wondering just how much more pain they could take before giving up.
“Found the perfect bandage for your wound,” he started saying, “not too big,” he placed it delicately on my thumb, “and not too small either.” The blood stopped oozing into the serviette and into the bandage. I wished I could place a bandage on my head but I would never know where the evil would seep.
“You alright?” he asked, a tinge of worry in his eyes. I nodded my head in approval, lying my ass off as usual. But he knew that I wasn’t alright because he had been here for the last hour. “You want to get a drink?”
“Yes, please.” I said, getting up hastily, “woah, my head is kind of spinny. Maybe some other ti–“ and then everything went black.
When I woke up several hours later, I was in a white room with pictures I didn’t recognize and books I had never read. “Hello?” I yelled out, panic rising. Where was I? What happened to me? Oh god, was I dead? Ouch, why is my head hurting so much. I got out of bed and headed for the mirror, wobbling over my feet as I tried to regain my balance. In the mirror I saw my face and awful bump at the back of my head.
“Can’t do anything right…” I muttered to myself. I picked at the bump, for the sake of understanding if this was a dream or real life. The pain confirmed the knot in my stomach; that it was real life, that there was an ugly bump on the back of my head, that I was completely and utterly alone. I stayed in the unfamiliar bed, completely ignoring the fact that I had no idea of where I was or how I ended up here. I drifted between the states of being awake and asleep for hours until I heard a knock on the door. “Come in” I yelled out and I immediately realized how stupid that was since this wasn’t even my house and who knew who was on the other side of that door.
“You up?” Daniel said as he entered with a glass of water, “I got you some water, I think you might be dehydrated.” I felt relieved seeing his face and not somebody else’s.
“What happened?” I said, my throat feeling soar and slightly painful.
“You pretty much passed out and hit the floor, sorry I couldn’t catch you in time.” He said whilst looking at the bump at the back of my head, “Unfortunately, we’re gonna have to keep an eye on that bump to make sure your head isn’t swelling or anything. And from now on you have to be awake, we can never be to safe.”
“What are you? A doctor and an indie movie maker?”
“I wish, then I would be financially stable for the rest of my life. But no”, He said, taking a sip from his cup of coffee and I swear I heard a twinge of pain when he said, “my father was a doctor.” Was. That was the word. Past participle of the verb be. There were two options for why he would no longer be a doctor; either he quit his job or he died. I really hoped it wasn’t the latter.
“Was?” I asked, my eyes watching his.
“Was. As in ‘no longer’. As in ‘he used to be alive’.” And it was then that I regretted ever asking because even if time has past it never stops hurting. Maybe less, but never entirely, and I never wanted to inflict that kind of pain on anybody.
“I’m sorry I asked.” I looked at the ground, trying to escape the inevitable awkwardness that was floating in the air.
“It’s alright.” But I knew it wasn’t alright because it never is. “Anyways, you need anything else?” His leg was shaking and his eyes looked painfully glassy, he wanted out and I couldn’t blame him.
“Could I borrow your phone? I need to make a phone call.” I said and he gladly gave it to me and then left the room to give me some privacy. I dialed Fi’s phone number, waiting for her voice on the other end but it only went to voicemail and I felt so furious because I needed her and lately she just stopped answering.
“Fi, I need you. Why won’t you answer? Call me back.” I hung up angrily and returned to bed, listening to the melodic sounds of Daniel’s stereo playing City and Colour whilst I cried myself to sleep, wondering if Tyler was doing the same.
Seventy days before
“Can’t you see that I need you?” I yelled. He was standing in front of me with his back turned, hands in his pockets and his feet about to leap forward. “I need you goddamnit!” He’s gone and there isn’t a trace of him anymore, not even the imprint of his too old, too dirty, too Tyler-like shoes.
My world was bleak and dirty. Everywhere I went I was reminded of him. I saw the way he walked in a random guy on the street and remembered his terrible sense of humor whenever I stumbled upon a vaguely funny post. He was a ghost and he was there all the time. The universe was handing me a sick and twisted joke. And I couldn’t stand it.
The skies were blue and the sun was out.
I was being pathetic and I knew it.
I hated everyone.
Sixty-nine days before
“Get up,” Isabelle yelled. How did she get into my room? Oh God, why was everything so loud? “It’s not your room you tard, you haven’t been home in days.” What, how was she doing this? Was she a figment of my imagination? “You’re such an idiot sometimes, or maybe you’re still hungover.” I squinted at my surroundings, trying to figure out why everything was so bright. I read the clock on the nightstand, 11:34. I was late, I couldn’t remember for what but I knew I was late and it had to be bad for Isabelle to come and find me.
“We had plans, didn’t we?” I said, my head pounding and my eyes glazing over. There were bottles on the floor, wine and Sprite, and my laptop still docked open next to them.
“We didn’t just have plans Zo,” she said, scooting closer to me, “we had THE plans. We were going to see that movie, remember?” I had never known Isabelle to be the disappointed type, the type who would come over and check on her friend.
“I’m sorry,” I started saying, my voice hoarse and low, “I’ve been having a few bad days. That’s all. Forgive me, will ya?” She didn’t say anything for a while and I didn’t mind the silence. But there was so much tension in the air that if I reached up from underneath the sheets I could probably grab it by the neck and try to strangle it without any luck or success. “We broke up. Two days ago. And I don’t know what to do.” I grabbed the blanket and started wringing it, unable to figure out what to do with my hands.
“I guess we better drown our sorrows then, huh?” she had a faint smile on her lips and her eyes were moving about. Probably uncomfortable by the situation. She grabbed the bottles off the floor and left them in the kitchen. I heard her do the dishes and picking up things from the floor of the apartment, grateful for the friend I did have around me.
“Hey, Isa?” I yelled out from the room. She responded back from the kitchen, the echo of the voice traveling in soft waves. I wanted to say something to her. Tell her what I needed and the plan necessary for it to happen but she would just tell me I was being stupid. Or shrug her shoulders. Or both.
“Never mind, I lost my train of thought.” I sat up on the bed, combing my hair gently as I tried not to break anything else. My nails were chipped and I should’ve been sad. I always got sad over my nails chipping or losing that one ring in my bedroom. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t sad over my stupid chipping nails or the fact that my hair looked like that of a hobo. I couldn’t care and I couldn’t cry any longer. And I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad.
“You wanna get out? Wait. Let me re-phrase that: put some clothes on and let’s go out. But before that, take a shower. And pack some clothes.” She threw some shirt my way and I grabbed them right before the buttons hit my face and left a semi-purple bruise on my left cheek.
“Why do I need to pack?” I stripped down to my underwear and put the pants on, looking at my bulging tummy from all that alcohol.
“You can’t stay here anymore,” she started saying before flinging me a pink top off the floor, “not here, not at your apartment, not in this building. You just need to get away.” She said this in such a sincere manner that it threw me off guard and my jaw slipped open, unable to close it back again. “And we need to party. Oh dear, we have to party.” I laughed at how blunt she was and that was that. We were going to a party.
We were going to a party.
We were going to a party two days after I had broken up with my boyfriend.
We were going to a party two days after I had broken up with my boyfriend and gotten my heart broken for all of eternity.
We were going to a party, and I was going to drown my sorrows in bad music, awful dancing with painful heels, and booze.
And nobody was going to stop me.
We were going to a party.
“Call me, there’s a party at Crystone Road 24 and I really need to talk to you… I’m sorry I was a bitch the other day on the phone.” I hung up the phone and slid it back into the puny bag I had taken from Fi’s room.
“Who’d you call?” Isabelle said, looking at me through the rearview mirror.
“Just an old friend. We had a fight the other day, just trying to salvage what’s left of it, ya know?” She nodded and kept facing forward, changing gears like it was an act she could do in her sleep. “Hey, how come you never let me sit in the front?” I asked, suddenly aware that I was actually in the back and not sitting shotgun like most friends tend to.
“The job of the shotgun is to take care of the music. And I hate to break it to you, but you have the worst taste in music. So, I’ll handle that and the driving. Kay?” She said it patronizingly, winking in the mirror. I needed this; I needed her teasing and nonchalant manner with me. I needed this; I needed a party to cheer me up.
Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself.
When we arrived at the party it was pretty much dead. The music was low and there were only a handful of people at the scene.
“This,” I started saying, “is the rager?”
Isabelle nodded, “I don’t know. It was supposed to start two hours ago but this is not the party I expected.” She scanned the crowd for the party planners. The people who stood there and received the most attention, the most hugs, and the ones who got all the booze to store in the refrigerator as to stay cool and refreshing when it burns our throats.
“There,” she said and pointed towards a group of girls who were dressed in skimpy dresses and had those red party cups which are so typical of American high school parties.
“Hey you guys!” a tall blonde girl lunges at us as we walked up to them, “you have anything we can store in the fridge?” she eyes the purple plastic bags we brought with awe.
“We brought some party favors” Isabelle hands over the bag of beer and wine, leaving the good stuff for ourselves. The blonde girl smiles and saunters off towards the kitchen and we followed her to investigate the rest of the “party” scene.
“Whose party is this anyways?” I ask Isabelle.
Isabelle shrugs, “I found it on Facebook.”
I look at her wide-eyed. Unaware of what to do with this human I call my friend. “You did what?”
“I found it on Facebook.” She looks through the various bottles and cans in the cooler, picks up a can and hands it to me, “What’s the big deal? A party is a party.” I stood there, beer in hand and a gaping mouth. I looked at her as she opened her can and chugged it down in a matter of seconds, bits of foam still lingering by her cupid’s bow as she smiled at various guests. I watched her troddle over to a group of familiars from high school and share some hugs, shaking hands with those unknown. She walked with such ease and poise, bringing laughter wherever she went.
I wished I were like Isabelle, not caring that a party where you didn’t know anybody was actually a blessing in disguise and not the devil’s work. She waved me over to the group she’d joined. I looked at the group I didn’t yet know and wondered if I would come to enjoy their presence during the night.
I shaked my head no and grabbed a bottle of cold beer from the fridge, walking away from the mass which had gathered in the kitchen. I fumble with a bottle cap opener whilst awkwardly trying to balance both my bag and bottle on one hip as I tried not to topple over.
“Need help with that?” A guy with two free hands looked at me, awaiting an answer. I stiffly handed over my bottle and did my best not to look dumb as I awaited my beer, hoping the bitter taste would make this entire party a little less unsettling. He smiled as he handed it back to me, about to say something to me but I bolted out of there as if I were to hurl all the contents of my stomach all over him.
I walked outside and found the mass of smoking people, each of them laughing and wobbling over one another.
“Can I bum a cigarette?” I find myself saying a bit too loudly into blank space. Some of them turn their heads but nobody really responds. I turn around and lean my forehead towards the concrete wall, feeling a bit of the skin of my forehead scrape away.
“Here,” I look to my right to find a guy holding out a cigarette, “you asked for one, didn’t you?” I nod my head and grab the cigarette from his hand, a Black Devil Vanilla. What was he, twelve?
I lit my cigarette and told him thanks, ready to walk away. “I’m Kevin.” He says and holds out his hand. I’m standing in an uncomfortable twist, torn between two paths – stay and be uncomfortable or go and, well, still be uncomfortable.
“How’d you hear about the party?” I raise an eyebrow at his question. I wasn’t actually expecting conversation. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I expected.
“That’s a thing?”
I laugh and take a drag from my cigarette, attempting to seem mysterious and vaguely flirty. “I don’t know. My friend dragged me here.” He nods his head at me and goes back to leaning against the wall. We exchange tense smiles at each other from a distance but don’t speak. I like the quiet, well, as much quiet as the outdoors of a basement party can bring.
I close my eyes and imagine that I am not here. That I am not here in this situation where I need to be brought out by my friend. That I am not here in this situation where I feel the need to dream myself away.
“Dreaming of better days?” Kevin says. His voice seems louder, nearer, darker.
“As much as the tipsy effect will let me.” I open my eyes to find him standing only a few centimeters in front of me, his eyes as green as emeralds.
“You wanna get out of here?” he propositions me. I find myself nodding and taking a last drag of my cigarette before extinguishing it with the heel of my platform sneakers. He grabs the free hand I have when I try and fix the strap of the bag on my shoulder. I shudder with confusion. I’m not used to an unknown hand fitting so well in between my fingers, my eyes linger on his fingers as I try to regain my balance. I suddenly feel out of place and my heart starts feeling like it might burst any second now.
“I know a quiet little place we can talk,” he said with a smile. I don’t let go of his hand, afraid what might happen if I do.
We walked over to a little house near a playground, one of those houses children always play family during the summer. Kevin is too tall and has to crouch down in order to get through the small doorframe, “Lucky you aren’t that tall” he says to me and smiles. I only have to bend a little in order to save my head from a nasty bump.
“It’s not that easy being small you know,” I start saying as I give his hand a little squeeze, “I never reach the high shelves, and that’s where all the good stuff is.” He smiles but I’m not sure if it’s because I might have slurred my words due to the alcohol or because I’m actually funny.
He sat himself down on one of the tiny benches like it’s something he’s done before, like he knows this house as if it were his own. I take in my surroundings, tracing the small name carvings in the ceiling with my fingers and trying not to remember the last time I was in one of these.
I sit next to him on the bench, maybe a little too close, but unaware of the fact until it’s too late to retract the action. He pulls out his pack again, offers me another Black Devil and I take it without any hesitation. I would probably reek of smoke by the time I got out of here and my lungs would probably die in the future but I couldn’t care less – the only person who could ever make me feel like a person had left me. And here I was trying to replace him.
We took drags in between words of gratitude towards the school system for our 90 days of freedom from responsibility and words of anger towards the same school system which repeatedly ruined our futures by implementing a new grading system which nobody understood, not even the teachers. And we exchanged solemn kisses when there were no drags or words left, his hands grazing the hem of my dress as his tongue slithered its way into my mouth, leaving a trail of vanilla flavored saliva. I make no effort to remove his hand from moving up my leg or to stop kissing him even though I feel guilty about the entire ordeal. I find myself being sucked into him, his energy compelling me to keep going even though I don’t want to. He kisses my neck and lays me down on my back, not making any eye contact, saying what a good kisser I am. I am numb as his kisses go further and further south of my neck, the sound of a zipper in a near distance and his questioning look saying, “Is it cool if I take your panties off?” I hesitate as he kneels above me with his boxers peeking out from underneath – a set of boxers I know so well only because Tyler also owns them.
Tyler. The name echoes in the back of me head as I drag down my black satin panties down, letting them drop on filthy wooden ground, adjusting my body to be pained. He allows himself to fall unto my chest and a sharp pain goes in between my thighs as he enters and then I am hollow. Empty as empty can be, ground against the rough splinters of wood, segments of my skin grazing open and slightly bleeding. He groans as he concentrates on himself and his satisfaction, completely ignoring that I am even here.
For a minute I can almost imagine Tyler on top of me, performing the same act but doing it with love and not selfishness, saying my name as he climaxes and grazes a piece of my hair before smiling and kissing me gently on my lips, including me in the whole ordeal. His body, once upon me, suddenly dropping to the empty space beside me and holding me there like I was the most precious thing he had ever seen, like I was a first edition J.D. Salinger novel.
I am snapped back into reality when Kevin’s body falls on top of mine, inducing a sharp pain in the center of my chest as my necklace lodges itself into me. The ring. The ring I received only a couple of days ago to keep for safe keeping until it was time to put on my finger.
Kevin lays his head on my chest, breathing in and out as he tries to regain his breathing. I look to my left, stare at chipped walls and the amount of dust gathered in this playhouse, wondering why it is in this shape. I gently massage the scalp of Kevin’s head in an attempt of affection, hoping that the scratching will make up for my inactivity.
“That’s nice,” he says and closes his eyes. I keep scratching as I count to one thousand, trying to steady my breath and the tears that are making an effort to escape my corneas.
“Have you ever been here before?” I ask, breaking the unsettling silence.
“Mm yes” he replies, snuggling into my chest and my free hand.
“Do you know why nobody ever comes here anymore?” I start saying, realizing I might be too vague in my question, “In this house, I mean. It’s real dusty, you know.”
He peers up at me, his eyes glazing over from exertion, “There used to be kids here before. Every day. But you see how it is,” he points at the walls and the ceiling, “the kids don’t feel like it’s theirs, you know?” I nod. I don’t actually understand him but hope that he will continue if I act that I do. “They want a new house. Nobody wants something old, something chipped, something that used to belong to someone else.”
“What about the stories these houses tell? What about the memories they hold?” I ask, looking at the ceiling, wishing I knew who these people were when they etched their names in or why they did it in the first place.
“Kids or no kids, people want shiny. They want new. That’s the way the world rolls.” Kevin got up at that point, put his boxers and pants on as I sat myself up and looked at my dirty underwear lying on the ground. “You take your time, see you in there?” I nodded and pretended to look for something in my bag.
I stopped picking through my bag when he closed the tiny door and allowed myself to just look and take in all my surroundings. I picked up my underwear from the ground, disgusted by myself for what I had just done. I thought about how Kevin had described what people wanted – they wanted shiny, they wanted new – untouched. I put the underwear in the plastic bag I brought my extra set of panties in and traded them in for another pair; a new, pink, frilly set with a bow plastered on to it – just what people wanted.
I was this house. I was run-down, bleached, and used. Instead of names etched onto my walls I had scars carved into my forearm, white little lines where they used to be. I was as hollow as this house and the only thing beating inside of it was the measly appearance of occasional shags.
Sixty-eight days before
I woke up in the playhouse; somehow I had managed to take a nap. My eyes hurt as I tried to open them and there were small crusts of goo in the corner of my eyes. 01:34, it wasn’t too late. I wondered where Isabelle was and I attempted to find my phone to check for messages or calls.
“Hey sleepy, good nap?” I reacted to the voice so quickly that I dropped my phone back in the purse and my head started hurting from the rapid head movement.
“How long have you been here?”
Fi shrugged her shoulders, “I saw a guy come out of here, and I was curious who his shag was so I peeked through the little window.
“And then you found me,” she nodded her head whilst drawing circles on the dusty ceiling, “Why didn’t you just come in then?”
“You seemed like you needed to think. Or breathe. Or maybe both. So I let you.” I grabbed her hand and gave it a little squeeze, no longer mad that she didn’t comfort me when I obviously needed some company but that she was just here. “So…” Fi started saying, coyly looking down at the ground, “Was it good?”
“But you feel bad?”
“Do you wanna tell me why you did it?”
“Because I was lonely?” I found my voice to go an octave higher than should have and my calves raising my body up to look down at her, “Because I wanted someone to hold me and look at me like I was a precious gem? Because I had just lost the one person who could take care of me and make me feel loved.”
“I love you.” She said, grabbing a hold of my hand. Rubbing the gap between my thumb and index finger, soothing my shaking calves, and allowing myself to sit down next to her.
“You know what I mean. It’s different with guys. It was different with Tyler. It was... Easy. I didn’t have to be easy for him, it just had to be easy with us.”
“How did it feel?”
“Bad. I wanted to stop so many times but all I could do was picture Tyler instead of that guy and if it was Tyler then it was fine. But it wasn’t Tyler. Don’t get me wrong I wanted to, but my heart wasn’t it.” I sighed, dropping Fi’s hand and getting up. “I’m all kinds of messed up right now and I don’t know what to do.”
Fi stood up, her head almost touching the ceiling and placed her arms around me, “We’re all messed up, you’re just a shade darker. But,” she kissed my shoulder blade, “that doesn’t mean you always will be.” We stood there, in the stupid playhouse, and just hugged. Fi held me as I my knees were starting to give up and the tears streamed down my cheeks. She dabbed my cheeks every now and then, stroking my hair and tranquilizing the waves of emotions stirring up within the vault of my existence.
“Come on,” Fi started saying as she dabbed away the streaks of mascara on my cheeks, “let’s get you dolled up and go party. We’re here to have fun.”
I smiled at her attempt to cheer me up and went willingly with her as we approached the mass of, now, drunken teenagers. I bummed a cigarette from a stranger and stood in their circle with Fi, listening in on their conversation. I lost myself in the ease of being with strangers and listening, not talking, to people I would never see again.
“Haven’t seen you here before, you new to town?” I was startled by the voice, almost choking when the smoke entered the wrong pipe, “woah sorry,” the voice said and started patting me on the back. I looked to Fi and smiled, she gave me a wink and walked away to another crowd, blending in like it was the most natural thing she could do.
“Sorry, I get scared easily” I took a last drag and stomped on the cigarette butt, “and no, I’m not new. I just don’t… get out much.” I smiled stiffly, my teeth suddenly feeling on display.
“Why is that?” he said, blowing smoke into the near distance, smoke rings building. Man, that was so cool. Note to self: learn how to make smoke rings and impress Isabelle.
“I have a boyfriend,” I started saying. Damn. That was not what I was supposed to say. Had. The past tense of have is had. “Anyways, I much rather prefer staying indoors. Too many shows to watch, not enough time, you know?” He raised an eyebrow at me and smiled, but he didn’t stay. He made an excuse to leave my side and joined another group, laying an arm over another girl.
Why couldn’t people just talk without an ulterior motive? I missed meeting people and just talking about everything and nothing, revealing parts of themselves they normally wouldn’t in daylight.
I walked inside to find Isabelle and do a couple of shots. Time to lighten the mood. I found her in the kitchen, smiling and laughing with a couple of people I recognized from her old class. I waved at her, motioning for her to make a break for it and join me by the cooler for some party favors.
“Man, they were draining me,” she said as she rummaged through the cooler.
“Had fun?” I asked, grabbing two shot glasses from the cabinet and rinsing them thoroughly. No diseases for us, thanks.
“Meh. As fun as you can have.” She poured us tequila, her go to drink, and fetched two small lime pieces from a plastic bag. I poured us salt on our hands and raised my glass, “Meh!” I laughed as said it and the corners of Isabelle’s mouth formed a smirk. I let the heat of alcohol burn the inside of my esophagus as I tried to remember why I liked it in the first place. But it wasn’t the burn that was the good part. The burn was a chaser. The real fun lay in the aftermath of the burn. In the cool and the somewhat haze effect it brought to my brain cells. “One more round, come on!” I found myself shouting, stunning Isabelle for a moment until we repeated it all over again.
Until we had to call it quits or neither of us would be able to walk home.
“No more shots for you,” Isabelle said and put the bottle back in the cooler, “Or I’ll have to hold your hair back. And I don’t feel like doing that. Sorry!” she walked away but I couldn’t even be mad.
I was on cloud nine.
The haziness had increased and I felt wobbly, but in a good way. I was louder and more loving, more hugs for anyone I saw. No more sad thoughts about Tyler or our stupid parents. No more stupid thoughts about the guy I’d just shagged in a dirty old playhouse.
I was suddenly free from all obligations. I was single and totally ready to mingle.
I walked out to the main hall where most people stood around dancing and joined a crowd, almost falling at least a million times but it didn’t matter because I was happy. I was going to be fine and nobody could stop that. I was invincible.
That is, until I fell on the ground and face planted.
“Ouch…” I said to myself, rubbing my forehead until it didn’t feel as painful anymore. Nobody helped me up or even seemed to notice that I had even fallen. And somehow, that hurt more than anything else. I held onto a nearby table as I grabbed myself up from the stone hard floor, holding onto the walls as I made an attempt to go outside and gain some fresh air.
I checked my watch. It was 03:42. The sun was starting to rise and the cool air was making the hairs on my bare arms rise.
I was alone.
Completely and utterly alone.
I made a phone call and started walking towards the subway.
Forty-five minutes later Daniel parks his silver Toyota by the curb and takes a seat next to me on the ice-cold bench in front of the barely occupied 7-11.
“Thanks for coming” I said, turning to hug him out of gratitude.
“No problem. I mean. I do this everyday.”
“You know. Pick up chicks.” He grinned as he said those last three words, so obviously trying not to hide the pun.
“Ha-ha” I said sarcastically, giving him a light punch in the arm. “You kiss your mom with that funny mouth?” I raised an eyebrow at him and found myself feeling a bit better. At least much better than I had when I was sitting on the floor at the party.
“You wanna tell me what happened?” his jaw clenched as the words left his mouth, his eyes no longer light blue but a shade of indigo. His hands are balled into fists and I feel that he already knows the answer as to why I called him in the first place.
“I did something. I did something I regret and I just wish I would disappear,” I cried, “all I want to do is remember the last time I was happy and I want to stay in that moment because right now all I have is this pain growing inside my chest and I don’t know what to do with it.”
Daniel put his arm around me, kissing the top of my scalp and rubbing my arm, “I know it probably doesn’t count for anything right now, but you’ll get through this. You’ll be fine.”
“That’s the thing,” I started saying before my throat got all clogged up with mucus, “I don’t want to get through this. I want this to be gone. This aching feeling in my chest that grows for each day that passes. This aching feeling which makes me go mad every day!” In the dead silence of dawn my voice sounded so much louder than I had intended it to. The echo of my own words hitting me in the arm with a sharp phantom pain.
“What’s your room?” he asked, pulling his tablet out.
I knew what he was asking. He was asking about my safe room. The safe room I had made up in therapy as a coping mechanism for whenever things got bad.
“Tyler’s room. But it’s not safe anymore. I’m not allowed in there.” Even my safe place wasn’t my safe place anymore. How much more screwed up could I get?
“Make a new one. I’ll put on some mindfulness music if you need me to?”
“No, I think I can do it. Just give me a minute to think and breathe.” I closed my eyes. Thinking how stupid this entire situation was. The point of a safe place was that it would be a constant. A place that would never stop being safe no matter what. “I’m in a room, much like Fi’s room but remove everything in it because it’s mine. It’s my room in a little apartment that feels like home. I have books stacking the shelves, overflowing so much as to just breaking the foundation of the shelf. But what makes most happy is that there are different grammar rules on the walls.”
“Grammar rules?” Daniel interrupts me. I’m pretty sure I heard a hint of confusion in his tone as he tried not to be judging or snarky.
“Yes. Like, if you were to make a sentence progressive you’d have to have a form of the verb ‘be’ and a verb ending in ‘-ing’. For example: I am going to hit you if you make fun of my weird obsession with grammar.” I smiled and even though I had my eyes closed, I knew he was smiling right back at me, his teeth in perfect unison with the rising sun.
“What else?” I heard his fingers swiping all over his tablet but I didn’t want to leave the zone. I didn’t want to leave the room when I was just getting it back.
“I’d like to have some pictures up. Some of me, most preferably smiling but those are hard to come across. Some of David and me. I think what I’d like most though would be one of Keira. One where she flashed her brightest smile and didn’t even know she was being photographed, like when she and Fi would read and they would read excerpts out loud and smile at how beautiful the words were strung along. I want the room to feel… happy. Happy and filled with words and books and pictures and grammar.” I open my eyes and find the sky to be a shade of salmon, the sun peeking up from above the horizon.
“Sounds like a nice place to stay. And here,” he hands me his tablet to look at, “now you’ll always have a visualization of it. Even if it’s not physically there.” I look at the table and the drawing he has made in such a short amount of time. He got the smallest of details perfectly, the shelves with the small little cracks, looking like they might fall apart any moment now but not quite doing just that but rather supporting the piles and piles of books I’ve come to read. The drawing was perfect with his loopy handwriting with grammar rules of the progressive and even my sample sentence and some polaroids vaguely hinting at figures with brown wavy hair much like Fi’s and Keira’s.
The drawing was perfect.
I had reconstructed a safe space.
I just hoped I wouldn’t have to demolish it once again.
Sixty-seven days before
I spent last night at Isabelle’s, wallowing in self-pity, as she cared for me between the hours of 18-08, only leaving me when she had to go to work or sleep. The hours I spent alone I rummaged the cabinets, looking for everything and anything that could dull the pain subsiding inside my skull.
I went through painkillers like candy, drank liquor like water, and plastered bandages on my skin like stickers. I was a mess and I knew it, doing absolutely nothing to clean up the debris.
Sixty-four days before
I watched the vertical line on the document flicker on and off in between every keystroke as I poured my heart out into words onto the blank space on the screen. My fingers felt like they were on speed as they typed away the things I never could say in person, in a last attempt to retrieve something that shouldn’t have been lost in the first place.
From: Zoe (firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: Tyler (email@example.com)
Date: July 8th, 2014 at 12:04
Subject: Don’t stop reading after the first paragraph
I know that the world is not a wish-granting factory. I know that. I know that it would be tough for us being together and I know that life is nothing like the fictional books I read. But I also know that I love you, and that I planned a future with you. I know that you love your sister and it hurts you when she’s sad. I know that when you get sad and think about a bad memory you do that thing with your teeth where you clench your teeth really hard and shake your head involuntary a bit. I know that you make a weird whimpering sound when you get frustrated with me. I know that you don’t cry or show any strong emotions when you’re upset but I know that when we broke up you cried on the phone – and that says something to me. I know that our relationship started on the basis of me always being too clingy and being the one who acts on my feelings rather than being rational. I know that I am a stupid girl, but I also know that I am a stupid girl who loves you.
I know that you’ve probably stopped reading by now ’cause you’re pissed at me for even writing this but if you’ve stayed with me for so long then you deserve more credit than I can give you. I know that you’ve given up all hope on us being together but I’m sorry but I can’t. I can’t because I’ve never tried this hard for something and I love you and I know you’re going to say, “There are so many better people out there. You have to meet them. You’ll get over me. Yada yada yada.” But no. I know myself; I know that I love you so much that it hurts. That I dream about you every day, both nightmares and dreams. I know that when I see something weird or funny I think of you and that I in the middle of the day randomly think, “I miss Tyler.” I can’t fall out of love with you, I’m so sorry about that.
I don’t have any intention with this letter really. I don’t want to upset you. I just want you to try. You probably think I’m desperate but I’m not like you. I can’t put my feelings in boxes. I feel everything at once and that is my fatal flaw. I just know that I love you and it kills me not to be with you. And I know being with you entails being physically away from you and hiding it from everyone but I love you so much. I know that our parents would hate us and one of us would be disowned and I don’t mind it being I. I don’t want to be without you.
I am annoying and I have too many feelings. I ramble on and on about things that don’t matter. I cry when I finish a good book and I get upset when I finish a series. I’m stubborn and anxious. But I am also very loving and caring. I want to give you a world with laughter and kisses and hugs and bad jokes. I only want the best for you and I’m not saying I am the best for you but I wish I could be. I know that we don’t share the same beliefs and that is a big issue when it comes to us. But I am willing to try, not only because I love you, but also because I actually want to understand and find a spiritual path. I’m probably not good enough for you, but I wish I could be.
You know, I am trying to be your friend. I understand that you, like myself, are very stubborn. I understand that choosing between your family and me is a no-brainer, but I am not asking you to choose but merely incorporate the two (in like ten years). Don’t hate me and don’t stop talking to me after reading this (if you managed to make it this far). I know you just want to be friends. I can’t imagine a life without you so I don’t want to stop being friends but you have to know that I can’t stop hoping that we’ll get back together despite the numerous times you have said we won’t. I know the world isn’t a wish-granting factory, but you told me once upon a time to have hope and I do have hope about us. As stupid as that might be.
Please, please, please don’t be mad at me. I know I shouldn’t have written this to you because you’re going to be mad and not even acknowledge this and stop talking to me and we’ll both feel like shit then but I love you so much and I just want those three kids and going to church on Sundays and then eating lunch right after with the kids. I want to see baby Maximillian running around in the house with blackberries smeared all over his face and only wearing diapers. I want us to disagree on how to raise Spencer. I want us to completely ignore Nathan because he’s the perfect kid but he secretly knows we love him. I want the family we dreamed about, that I drew of. You’re the one I wish for every time the clock strikes 11:11 even though I know that it’s stupid.
Please, please, please don’t hate me. I’m so scared you are going to hate me after this and never speak to me again. I can’t bear losing you, again. I just want you to tell me honestly after reading all of this, if you still love me or not. If you would ever take me back, despite the odds set out against us.
Love always, Zoe
The flickering remained, taunting me, revealing that I had finally run out of words.
I opened Gmail and pressed ‘Send’.
I regretted it already.
Sixty-two days before
It had been two days since I sent the e-mail to Tyler and all I got was a shitty automated response, the words on the screen etched into my brain, I’m sorry. I don’t know what else I can do. I was running out of ways to numb the pain and Isabelle was starting to cut me off, claiming if I kept it up I’d be buried in a ditch somewhere within days. As if the thought hadn’t already appealed to me numerous times.
I’d alternated between staying at my parents’ and Isabelle’s, telling Fi I couldn’t be alone in her loft whilst she went away on vacation with Julian in fear of the thoughts badgering the insides of my cranium and what might happen if I listened to them.
I downed my medication just as the doorbell of my parents’ house rang; standing outside was Daniel, bag in hand.
“Hey,” he said, giving me a half-hug.
“Hey,” I closed the door as I stepped forward, hoping my mother wouldn’t ask who the boy at our doorstep was. “What are you doing here?” I asked, confused by his arrival, “I mean. I just wasn’t expecting you. You know.” I was feeling embarrassed. I was looking frazzled, my hair sticking out everywhere, wearing my purple pyjama bottoms with horses on them and a t-shirt from when I was ten.
“I just wanted to check on you,” he started saying, digging through his plastic bag, “I just hadn’t seen you in the building for the couple of days… I brought you some things.” He handed me the bag filled with microwavable lasagna and pizza, toothpaste, soup, and toilet paper. “I just thought… You probably didn’t feel like taking care of yourself, so…”
“Thank you, I appreciate it,” I was about to go inside but found myself stopping to invite him. He seemed startled, looking at the exterior of the house before finally deciding to step inside.
As we walked into the house my mother entered the kitchen, which was just a mere meter from the entrance, awaiting our arrival and greetings.
“Mother,” I said, the edge in voice subsisting from the constant tension present whenever we are within metres of one another, “this is Daniel, he lives in the same building as me.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” my mother replied, a smile plastered on her face as she shook his hand. Just as we turned around to go upstairs my mother asked, “Would you like to stay for dinner?” We stood there alarmed, Daniel’s eyes watching mine as I glared at her mother; what was her hidden agenda? “Your father and brother are home,” my mother said to me, “it could be nice to have a dinner before he takes off once again. I’d love it if your friend stayed.” The words were out of her mouth and they couldn’t be taken back, she’d basically insinuated that if Daniel left now he was rude and never to be brought back. I lightly hit my head on the bannister as Daniel replied yes to her invitation, my mother staring at me as I did. What if we were walking into another fight?
I showed Daniel the upstairs and he was fascinated by the décor, completely infatuated with my father’s vintage movie posters and my mother’s collection of rare first edition novels.
“Wow,” he said, gazing at the walls which were plastered with photographs my brother had taken over the years, “I don’t say that a lot but let me repeat: wow.”
“You like them?” I asked, guiding him to my room and sitting myself down on my bed as I attempted to tidy up my room.
He looked at me, his eyes more serious than I’d seen them before, “Love. Your brother took these?” he asked receiving a simple nod from me in return, “If I ever do manage to produce a good indie movie, I’m hiring him to do the filming and photography.”
“Glad to know I have a future doing what I love,” David stood in the doorway, arms crossed and a smirk on his face, “David.” He walked to Daniel, shook his hand and they talked about different settings on the camera, completely ignoring my existence until my mother called us downstairs for dinner.
We sat through dinner, all focus on Daniel as the told the stories of his misadventures in high school and how they ultimately shaped him as the person he was, my parents being an absolute delight. Had this been a movie, this would have been the scene at the end where everything is just right again, where the villain has been defeated and the team is gathered once again, cheering for their victory.
“Zoe dear,” my father said, startling me, “are you not hungry?” I had barely touched my plate in fear of not being able to enjoy it all, anticipating a brawl in the midst of dinner.
“I just have a lot on my mind daddy,” I replied, grabbing a forkful of mashed potatoes and smiling as I engulfed my dinner, everybody watching me. Sensing there might be a follow up question I redirected any questions towards Daniel by saying, “Daniel is a filmmaker.” I stuffed food into my mouth, forcing Daniel to take the lead on the conversation, allowing me to go back to being in the shadows.
“Oh really?” my mother said, her tone an octave higher, probably uncomfortable, “What does that mean? Do you produce or direct?”
“I produce. I’m currently looking for a scriptwriter actually, so my projects are on hold for the moment.”
Before he could say anything else my brother blurted out, “Zoe writes. She’s been published, you know.” I cursed David, in my head, and kicked him under the table, seeing him let out a tiny whimper made me feel a little better.
Daniel smiled at me, “We’ll have to talk after dinner about your secret writing skills.”
“Do you have a vision for your movie?” my father asked, showing enthusiasm as he raised the question, “If you don’t, oh do I have a scene for you!” My father was beaming and I found that he and my mother exchanged smiles as he said this, allowing him to have his moment of joy, probably already aware of what he was going to say next.
“Yeah? Pitch it to me,” Daniel replied, putting his fork and knife on the plate and diverting all his attention to my father and the possible fragments of a story he could use in his upcoming film.
“It’s a tale as old as time,” my father started saying, “you’re eighteen, a graduate, and on top of the world. The world is your oyster and all you want is to celebrate, buy so much food you can drown in it.” Laughter erupts at the table, everyone focused on the words that come out next even though we’ve already heard this story before. “So you do. You go down to your local grocery shop with your buddies, still in the suit you wore to graduation, not afraid to flaunt it to anybody who will listen. You go down to the local grocery shop and you’re there, trying to decide between cheese doodles or salted chips when a girl,” he grabs my mother’s hand, smiling at her as she blushes, “a girl you think looks absolutely stunning, walks up to you and makes the decision for you, stealing the bag of cheese doodles right out of your hands, flashing her brightest smile as she runs away to the counter in her white, lace dress, still fresh with that graduation euphoria, wearing a graduation cap reading ‘catch me’.” They kiss and it felt like David and I were five, asking about how they met right before we would fall asleep.
The fell silent awaiting Daniel’s inevitable question, “then what happened?”
“Nothing. The girl was nowhere to be seen past the counter and the boy lost sight of her.” Daniel’s face loosened up, his lips in a tight line probably from disappointment until daddy started up again, “Until five years later, when they met in the same store but in a different aisle.”
“They found each other again?”
“Right there in the cheese aisle. She walked up to him, him trying to decide between cheddar and pizza cheese, when she scooped up the pizza cheese, once again making the decision for him.” Dad took a sip of wine for dramatic effect, “Except this time, he didn’t let her run away. He asked her out to dinner instead, saying he’d make her his famous potatoes au gratin with both cheeses so they didn’t have to choose which to bring home.”
“Well, did she buy it?” Daniel was clearly invested in hearing the end of the story as he almost fell off his chair and knocked over the salt and pepper shakers as he leaned forward to not miss a word of what my father would say next.
“You tell me,” my father replied smugly, laying an arm around my mother.
Daniel, finally piecing it all together, gasped and said, “You’re the boy,” pointing at my father who nodded, “and you’re the girl who ran away that day.” She gave my father a squeeze on the arm located on her shoulder, smiling at Daniel.
“And to this day,” she looked into my father’s eyes, “we still make the potatoes au gratin the same way, with two different cheeses so we’ll never have to choose.”
I watched my parents, smiling at each other, holding hands for the first time since, what felt like, forever. David trying to restrain the grin on his face from growing wider, Daniel in awe of the story just told. I watched them, my family, and our guest, understanding that maybe we were allowed to have our movie moments. In the midst of all the poison seeping in from time to time, I was grateful that I wouldn’t have to spend another night downing my sorrows.
Sixty-one days before
Daniel spent the night, staying in David’s room, after our parents insisted it was far too late to drive home, especially after have eaten so much food and laughing so hard his stomach was cramping. I was partly embarrassed by my parents but mostly amused at how the tension in the air seemed to have seeped out.
I was finding myself more energetic, more in touch with the world after last night’s blessing of a normal family dinner, and less inclined to stay in and wallow in self-pity even though the only person on my mind couldn’t be with me.
I was in the midst of getting dressed, hating my too short arms as I couldn’t reach around my back to zip up the rest of my jumpsuit, when I heard a knock on my bedroom door. “Come in!” I yelled, still staring at myself in the mirror, wondering how I was ever going to take care of myself when I couldn’t even zip up the jumpsuit – which is what my closet at Fi’s mostly consisted of recently.
“It’s me,” Daniel said, peering in through the crack to see if I was decent, “I was just wondering if you had any plans today?”
“No, I don’t think so, how come?” I looked at what little I could see of him through the mirror, eyeing him to come inside.
He stepped inside wearing navy jeans and a white v-neck t-shirt with a pair of black sneakers; had I seen him on the street I probably would’ve made a mental note to buy the exact same outfit and gift it to Tyler as soon as possible. He met my gaze in the mirror, hands in pockets, biting his lip slightly until he finally asked, “Wanna do some writing?” I dropped the necklace I was trying to put on, not exactly startled at his proposal because I knew it was going to come, just not prepared for it just yet. “I know, I shouldn’t have asked,” he said as he came over to me and picked up the necklace, “I mean. There has to be a reason why you hadn’t told me you were writing when you knew I was looking for one. But… I just wanted to try. Sorry.” He got up and was ready to leave but I grabbed ahold of his hand, aware of the heat traveling from his hand to mine, dropping it like it was caught on fire. “I guess that’s a yes?”
“I just need some help with this zipper,” I said, pointing to my back, “disadvantage of having short arms you know.” I was desperately trying to avoid the topic of why I hadn’t told him, or the fact that I hadn’t written in months, but realized that I would eventually have to tell and he’d give me the same face everyone else did.
“Sure thing,” he stood behind me removed my hair from the nape of my neck, his fingers lingering and making my skin trickle with sweat. I felt the warmth of his hands through the cloth of my jumpsuit as he zipped it up, his fingers unsure of what to do next as he reached top, looking at me in the mirror.
“Could you help me with my necklace?” I said, “I think I want it tighter, like a choker.” He nodded at my request, unfastening the necklace and drawing it tighter and clasping it once again.
“This good?” he said, looking at me in the mirror once again, looking for a sign that he should drop his hands.
“Perfect,” I muttered, my voice barely audible. “I’m just going to put on some make-up and then I’ll meet you by your car. Okay?”
“Okay,” he replied and walked out of my room faster than anyone I’d even seen. As I sat in front of my make-up table, highlighting my cheekbones, I found myself thinking about what had just happened, wondering if I was allowed to feel the way I had just felt. I touched the nape of my neck, wondering how it would have felt if he had kissed my neck instead of only grazing it with his fingers.
I snapped out of my thoughts, grabbing a satchel bag with my laptop in it, and headed downstairs only to be halted by my mother.
“Where are you going Zoe dear?” she said, no edge in her voice but rather something unfamiliar. Warmth.
“I’m heading out with Daniel.” I told her, awaiting her response that I shouldn’t be out alone with a boy considering what boys at this age are after and that in respect to our religion and culture we don’t date until we’re much older.
“Doesn’t David want to go with you?” she quizzed me, as expected.
I answered as calmly as I could, not wanting to start a fight, “Daniel and I are going to be working on his script for the movie,” pointing to my laptop, “and anyways, I think David had other plans.”
“Oh,” my mother replied, feeling slightly ashamed for cross-examining me and expecting the worst out of me, “I’m glad you’re writing. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” I nodded at her question, losing the words to express just how long it had been since I had been able to write something decent. I was sitting down, trying to lace my boots, when my mother uttered the three words I used to hear so often before, “Just be careful.” I looked up at her – hair in tangles, still wearing her bathrobe, and wearing her reading glasses – she looked human and not the robot I had come to get to know over the past few months, I almost felt bad that I had yelled at her the other day and decided to let go of the resentment I had felt towards her. I finished lacing up my shoes and did something I hadn’t in months; I kissed her on the cheek, recognizing her effort to be my mom and not my bodyguard.
The sun was in the initial stages of setting, illuminating the nearby cafés and sending a signal to all the parents that it was time to take their children home before the drunken teenagers showed up.
We sat ourselves down near the boardwalk, soaking in the evening sun and the fresh scent from the waves, trying to find inspiration for the story Daniel wanted to tell.
“What do want your movie to be about?” I opened an empty document on my computer, hoping that my fingers will be able to type away a somewhat decent first draft.
“A tale as old as time,” he started saying, digging out a notepad, “I want a story like the one your dad pitched last night. Something authentic and real.” He smiled as he said the last sentence, pointing to the page in his notepad, which read GROCERY STORE STORY – REAL!! A lot of underscores beneath the entire phrase.
“Okay, I think I got it,” I hadn’t gotten it but I couldn’t fail already, “You want me to write that in scene now or after we’ve got a beginning?”
“You’re the writer. What’s the process?” I wanted to tell him that I didn’t have a process, that I sit myself down somewhere with terrible music and hope to find inspiration in the beat, and also that I didn’t do well under pressure.
“I’ll write the scene dad told,” I said, my throat tightening up, “and see what happens from there. If you even like my writing style.” He smiled and gave me thumbs up, then left to photograph the beach and film the waves.
“Okay,” I muttered to myself, “you can do this. You’ve written worse, just… Type.” I was trying to convince myself that I could do it, that months of not being able to write would be able to help me. I tried to draw happiness from the moments I had with Tyler, the nights we spent watching stupid movies and just talking until there were no words left, but found it to not draw happiness but only pain. I snapped myself out of it, not allowing Tyler to get in between my words and my parents story, not letting him taint the one shred of humanity I had seen between my parents in months, especially my mother.
And then it hit me.
The words hit me one after one, the words I had hidden in the back of the closet came back and in waves, my fingers not able to keep up with words trotting inside the confines of my skull. I felt the rush I used to get when I was writing something I knew was amazing, the heat radiating outwards, my forehead gleaming with sweat as I wrote the finishing touches.
I waved at Daniel who was on the other side of the beach, finally getting his attention after what felt like ages, “I did it!” I yelled. He stopped photographing and ran over to me, putting a smile on my face. He looked so stupid running wildly on the beach, I filmed him with my phone, teasing as he approached me and forbade me from ever showing anyone how he ran when he was excited.
I left him to go to the café, getting two overpriced iced teas, peach for him and green for me. When I arrived I received applause from Daniel, a little confused at why, I raised an eyebrow and handed him his iced tea. “What?” I said.
“Anyone ever tell you that you write good?” he said, taking a sip from his tea.
“Well,” I replied, his eyebrow raised, “You write well, not write good.”
He laughed, “Whatever, that’s why you’re my writer and I’m the one behind the camera.”
I choked on the iced tea, not sure I had heard him right. “I’m your writer?”
“You write well. You got the story, your wrote the story in your own words, that’s what I need out of my scriptwriter.”
I croaked, beating my chest lightly. “You don’t have to do this, you know.”
“Hire me to be your writer just because you know that I write.”
“I know. But the point isn’t that you can write, but that you can write what I want.” He gave me a little nudge. “The fact that you’re a legit writer is just a big plus. Which brings me to my next point…” I was afraid to hear his next words, fully aware of what his question would be, “why didn’t you tell me that you wrote?”
This was it – now or never. I was hoping for the latter but we were all alone, with nobody I knew within reach to intercept the conversation. “You know my friend Keira, Julian’s sister?” I started to say, receiving a nod from Daniel, “Well. I loved her. I loved her a lot. She wasn’t just my friend. She was like a sister to me. I mean, we grew up together. For as long as I can remember… She was the one constant in my life, when my grandmother died she was there right with me. Granted, she was sitting beside me watching television as I cried my eyes out but you know, we were six and she didn’t really understand why I was crying, so I forgave her for that. But the point is, she’s been there for me ever since I was little, and she was, until about a year ago and a half ago.” My throat was closing, the tears running down my cheek. This was the first time I was actually talking about, not just small phrases like ‘she passed away’ or ‘she died’ but actually talking about what happened. Everyone in town knew what happened, it was strange that Daniel didn’t. “Long story short? She disappeared. She left and then she never came back. And then she died. And I don’t actually know what happened in between.” The beach fell silent, only hearing the sound of the crashing waves and nearby cars whooshing by.
“You don’t know?” Daniel asked, his gaze on the sand underneath his feet.
“My parents know, and my brother. Virtually everyone I know knows, but I don’t. I can’t remember.”
“I checked myself out, mentally. I couldn’t handle her death and so I coped the only way I knew how – by hurting myself in any way possible. And when I got back to reality, nobody talked about it. Nobody wanted me to break down again, fearing I might never come back. I can only remember bits, bits when they ask me if I know where she is or if I’d gotten a message from her.”
“Do you blame her?” he inquired, adding, “For leaving?” In all the months since Keira had left, nobody has asked me that.
“Yes,” I mumbled, “I blame her for leaving because if she hadn’t then maybe she wouldn’t have died!” I got up from my feet and found my voice louder than it had in years, the anger I had hidden away rising in between words. “If she hadn’t left… then I wouldn’t feel like this! I wouldn’t look for her wherever I go, afraid I might miss her if I blink, afraid that I’ll never find someone like her ever again.” I fell to my knees, no words coming out of my mouth only punches to the ground, harming myself more than I am the sandy area, the skin of my hands flailing loosely from the tiny grains of sand scratching them. “I trusted her…” I cried. “I trusted her not to leave, and she did anyways. And somehow, my writing abilities are connected to her. It’s like my fingers don’t feel like they should type in the absence of her words.”
He held me in his arms as I let my tears stain his shirt. I let myself be held, listening to the rhythm of his heart as mine synchronized with his, attempting to slow down. I watched the waves crash against the shore, wondering how the cold water would feel on my burning skin as the ocean swallowed me whole. I felt vacant, like all the tears I had contained for this moment had left my body, leaving the boundaries of my body vacant, nothing but air remaining. Saying it out loud, talking about her as if it were real and not just something I had made up, didn’t make the pain go away or her absence any less real, only less… abstract.
“I miss her,” I said, wiping my tears away and seating myself up straight, looking straight at Daniel as I spoke, no longer afraid of the words I had to stay. “I miss her every day, and she was my home. Anywhere Keira went felt like home, and now she’s not here. And no place truly feels like home. That’s why I’m afraid to stay too long in one place, afraid that when when I lose it… I’ll fall apart, no longer having a home. That’s why I alternate between staying at home with my parents and staying at Julian’s. I keep telling myself that I need several homes that feel like a home rather than an actual home, which brings with it the homey feeling, you know?” He nods, not removing his fixed stare. “I just fear that it’s all going to change in an instant and that’s why I don’t hold onto things, I only visit them. Including myself, because I can’t choose who I want to be. That’s why I have two closets, torn between who I was and who I am now. There is a time before Keira died and a time after that. It’s like she’s a marker in time, like there was with 9/11, but I want to pass this marker, to not see the days as pre-Keira or post-Keira. Just see them as days.”
“Can I give you my two cents?” he asked. I nodded, ready to hear what I’d been dreading. “Sometimes holding on hurts more than letting go.” I responded with a tightlipped smile, unsure of what to say next. I listened to the waves, the noise they made as they overlapped one another, consuming each other as they approached the shore, wondering if letting go meant devouring the grief before it devoured you.
Fifty-eight days before
I was on my way to see Fi when I received a phone call, so surprised at the caller ID that I nearly let it go to voicemail, missing it altogether.
“Hello?” I said a little louder than intended.
“Hey,” Tyler said, his voice raspy, probably from staying up all night. “Can we meet?”
“Our spot. Half an hour.”
I got the twenty minutes before he did, sitting by the dock, trying to figure out what I was going to say when he arrived. I had hurried over here, leaving a message for Fi saying that I was sorry but had to bail, explaining that Tyler had called and hoping she would forgive me, which I knew she would considering just how much getting him back meant to me.
My hair was in a bun, a little curly from sleeping in plaits, some strands falling. I thought about telling him all that I had felt, excluding the fact that I had slept with someone only days after we had broken up. I thought about kissing him as he approached him, not allowing him to make the decision for us, just like my dad had when he asked my mother out for dinner that time in the grocery store, not letting her sleep in between his fingers again.
“Hey,” Tyler said, standing behind me, hands in his pockets, shoulders drawn back. He was so gorgeous; all I wanted was to kiss those lips of his which had once kissed me with comfort whenever I’d woken up in the middle of the night from a nightmare.
“Hi,” I leaned in for a hug, but he leaned in for a handshake, already making it awkward between us. We sat ourselves down on the dock, taking in the positions of our first date. “Remember our first date? Or well, non-date.”
“Yeah, look that’s not why I’m here.” He said, an edge residing in his voice.
“We sat here for hours,” I said, ignoring him completely, thinking if I just kept talking he wouldn’t be able to decide, I would get to decide. “You were going on vacation and it was the last time I would see you for days, weeks even. Remember those guys who just jumped into the lake and swam away? Man, it was so random!” I was laughing but he wasn’t, he just stared straight ahead.
“You can’t e-mail me anymore,” he said. “At least not for a while.”
“Why not?” I choked back my tears, staring at the ripples in the water.
“It’s too hard,” he started saying, I was starting to sense bullshit and the fury grew within. “It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s that I do. If I could fix this I would, I promise. But I can’t. And I can’t bear seeing or hearing from you.”
I clenched and unclenched my fists, trying to contain everything that was inside me. I had just released part of Keira’s demon; I wasn’t ready to let go of another. “Then why are you here?” I whispered, not removing my gaze from the ripples, trying to appear composed and not broken. “I mean, you’re going away to med school. You could’ve just not said anything and left.”
“You deserve more than that. I thought I owed it to you.”
“No. You don’t get to do that,” I stood up, my throat swelling with anger. “You don’t get to be ‘all holier than thou’ and make me out to be the awful ex-girlfriend. You don’t get to leave me when you promised you wouldn’t. You don’t get to make all these promises about the future and then just abandon them because you’re scared!” I was angry and I wasn’t afraid to hold back. “You don’t get to show me paradise only to crush it in front of my eyes, you don’t get to give me all those memories and then tell me that they didn’t mean anything. You don’t get to be the good guy in all of this and start over. It’s not fair!”
“I hear you,” he said, his president voice on, the one he used when he was setting his emotions aside. “and I’m sorry you feel this way, but there truly isn’t any other way to do this. Either we stay together for a couple of years, anticipating the end. Or we end it now, try to move on and find whatever, or whoever, God had intended for us to find.”
“Yeah right, where’s your God now?” I knew I had crossed the line questioning his faith, but I couldn’t stop myself, I was toppling over with hatred for the universe and whoever was in charge of it, but mostly with myself for not being able to believe in a God in the first place. Maybe if I did, this would’ve been a whole lot easier.
He stood up, took a box out of his bag, and placed it next to me. “I guess this is goodbye, I’m sorry it didn’t go better. Take care.” I watched him walk away as if nothing had happened, as if he were only going away for a couple of days and not forever. I looked at the box, knew exactly what it contained, tears streaming down my face at the thought of all the mementos stored and what I had to do with them.
I laid myself down on the dock, looking sideways at the water and wondering if anybody would notice if I just rolled in and let myself fall into the depths, holding my breath until I passed out. The thought made me blue with sadness; red with rage, and for some reason those two together didn’t make me yellow with happiness, the color schemes they taught me in pre-school were a lie – all I became was green with nausea.
Fifty-seven days before
I was back to square one, in the initial stages of post-break up depression, which happened to coincide with my undiagnosed sadness, making it even worse. I was on constant watch by David, Isabelle, Daniel, and Fi, each having their own shifts.
David took the day shift, making sure I induced my medication and didn’t skip out on it in case I went on a rampage about not deserving it.
Isabelle took the afternoon shift, supplying me tiny amounts of booze, making sure I didn’t have so much that I would be hungover and more miserable.
Daniel took the moments right before I fell asleep, taking extra care, realizing that the moments just before falling asleep were the worst.
Fiona took the night shift, there in case I woke up in the middle of the night and needed comfort.
I felt like a baby.
I still hadn’t thrown out the box.
Fifty days before
I’d been drifting in an out of sleep, trying not to pay attention to the fact that I was probably fired from the one job I had been able to secure after not showing up for weeks, molding myself into a couch potato.
I lost myself in the stories of others, watching The Bachelor and throwing popcorn at the screen every time another girl went out, screaming that every guy is the same – not in it for the long haul.
The TV is on and Michael, the bachelor, chooses Gabrielle, the villain, over Amy who so clearly loves him. “He doesn’t love you Gabrielle!” I attempt to throw chips at the screen but miss and the pile of tossed food grows.
“You’re gonna have to clean that up, you know,” Isabelle said. “I’m not your maid, only your babysitter.” She swept up the pile with a broom, oblivious to the fact that I was smiling at her. “And no more booze for you. I actually think you lowered your tolerance for alcohol, I heard you vomiting this morning and don’t think I haven’t noticed your headaches.”
“Maybe it’s from your constant yammering,” I mumbled.
“I heard that,” she said, sitting down next to me. “I’m— we’re just worried about you, okay?” Isabelle looked vulnerable, her eyes looked worn out from crying, her forehead indented with frown lines from constant worrying.
“I’m sorry,” I said, taking a hold of her hand. “I’ll try to be better. Promise.” She patted my hand and got up to leave, ready to pass over the next shift to Daniel. Isabelle kissed me goodbye and told me to call if I needed anything in case I felt lonely waiting for Daniel. I smiled at her, threw her a blow kiss, and went back to being a couch potato, wondering how I could be so miserable when I had such an amazing support system.
I grabbed the blanket around me, turned the TV off, and sat myself on the balcony, which overlooked the park outside the apartment. It was 19:35, the kids still swinging, and their parents watching them from a distance, hoping that one day their beautiful daughter or son will become the president. I chuckled at the thought of my parents thinking that, that one day they had thought I would be someone great. The irony was not lost on me.
I grabbed the pack I had hidden in between plants, knowing very well that Julian couldn’t yell at me for smoking since he was away on business, getting away from babysitting duty. I leaned over the railing, lighting my Verona, inhaling the warmth, trying not to choke as I laughed at the thought of my parents seeing me like this: broken and decomposed, the complete opposite of what I had shown them, their trophy daughter.
“Those things will kill you, you know,” a voice I recognized so well said.
“So I’ve heard,” I turned around, blew the smoke in his face teasingly. “Oops!”
He took the chair beside me and bummed a cigarette, “Someone feeling better?”
I took a drag. “I don’t know.” I watched him fumble with the lighter, the wind too strong for the puny fires the lighter tried to fuel. “Here,” I said. I cupped my hands over his cigarette, shielding the tiny roll of nicotine from a cyclone.
“You doing okay?” he asked, his eyes focused on mine. I shrugged my shoulders, not sure how to answer that question anymore. What was ‘good’ anyways? Was it waking up in your bed not feeling the urge to die? Was it getting out of bed and not feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders? Or was it just something unimaginable?
“Do you wanna go on a trip?” I asked him, uncertain as to why I was so eager to abandon my duties as a couch potato. He raised his eyebrows and disregarded my question, laughing it off. “What?”
“It’s just,” he said, laughter growing. “It’s like you’re a whole new person. What changed your mind? Seven days ago you could barely get out of bed, not that I’m not fond of this new found happiness, it would just be good to know what trigged it so we have a trick for fixing you if something bad were ever to happen in the future.”
“Nothing,” I said, trying to resist the urge to smile. “Some days, you just wake up and the world isn’t so bad. The sky is bluer, the sun yellower, and the heat in my heart redder. Today is one of those days.” I smiled at him; my teeth gleaming white after having scrubbed them clean, awaiting the adventure ahead of us.
“Okaaay little ms.sunshine,” he said, stubbing out his cigarette. “What’s the destination in mind?”
“Any particular reason?”
“Nope,” I said, restraining the urge to spill. “Just heard they have a nice amusement park.”
“I’ll make some calls.” I gave him a thumbs up, glad to have gotten one step closer to Gothenburg, knowing that Julian had found another clue in Keira’s death.
Forty-six days before
After six hours of sitting on a train, the four us – David, Daniel, Isabelle, and me – had arrived in Gothenburg, already sick of one another after having played UNO, poker and any other card game we could think of, mapping out our adventures for the day. We checked into the hotel, me bunking with Isabelle and Daniel with David.
I had called Julian the minute I woke up, making sure that nobody was around to listen in on the conversation. I think I might know why she came here, he had said over the phone, but I need you to come down here as soon as possible.
I hit the sauna, feeling I could use the spa-time and away time to collect my thoughts about Julian’s discovery, what could he have found that nobody else could? I jumped in the shower, soaked myself with cold water, and entered the pine-clad room with a brilliant view of the city, allowing my pores to be cleansed from impurities and aggravating thoughts.
As I walked back to my hotel room, passing the lounge of families and laughing mother’s with their daughters, I couldn’t help but wonder how my mother was doing, wondering if her and my dad were still in their lovey-dovey state. The picture perfect family I had once know, had been crumbling in front of my own eyes until it hadn’t, and I wasn’t sure in which direction it would change again. I shook off my thoughts, returning to my number one mission: sneak out of here without anyone else realizing I had left in the first place and to try to piece the puzzle back together, and maybe possibly, find out what actually happened to Keira.
“What are the plans for today?” I asked Isabelle who was holding a stack of papers and a pen in between her teeth, a disheveled appearance in place.
“Wet’s fike awond de shity,” she said, not a single comprehensible word coming out of her mouth. I waved my hands at her, trying to gain her attention and make her understand that I didn’t comprehend a word of what she said. She took the pen out from between her teeth and made a bun, sticking the pen somewhere in there. “Let’s bike around the city. I read it’s fairly cheap and the easiest way to get around town,” she started shuffling around with the papers again, smiling at finally finding the one she had been looking for. “Ah! Here it is.” She held out the paper – a map of the city. “We have a week here so that’s plenty of time to see things, we even have time to hit the amusement park.”
We decided on going to the amusement park the day after tomorrow, only biking a little today as to ease into life here. We rented some bikes from a stall nearby, acknowledging the fact that biking in fact was the way tourists, and locals, transported themselves around here as the roads weren’t narrow and bumpy as they had been in Stockholm.
“Are we there yet?” I yelled, exhausted from biking for twenty minutes.
“You wish!” Isabelle yelped back, laughing at my run-down state. “Come on, you can do it!” I flipped her off with both hands, almost crashing into a bus stop. “Karma!” I was too tired to retaliate towards her, seeing that it had done no good just seconds before. After another twenty minutes we reached Castle Forest, a huge forest extending for kilometers, rumored to contain a huge animal park.
Isabelle and David wandered off deep into the forest, ditching their bikes. Daniel and I stored the bikes at a stall as they photographed the wondrous animals and trees, fascinated by every and anything they saw.
“Do you get that?” I asked, trying to figure out how the lock system of this stall worked, chipping a nail in the process.
“What?” he said as he took the bike out of my hands, sliding the bike neatly into the stall, locking it without any hassle. He winked at his success, chuckling at my misfortune as I tried to file my nail down without it looking out of place in comparison with the others.
“Taking a picture of everything.”
He raised an eyebrow and looked at me, “I’m a filmmaker, remember?”
I giggled. “Is it he same though? I mean, your pictures move, theirs don’t.”
“It’s a matter of perspective,” he said, placing the sunglasses on his eyes. “I mean. They’re still telling a story. Whereas I show my audience every bit of the story, they’re only telling a part of it. Allowing the viewers to try and fill in the rest. It’s like a puzzle.” I listened to him as he said the words, realizing that I had been doing the same my entire life, writing short stories that never really went anywhere because I never knew how to finish them but maybe what I really wanted was to leave an open ending, see what vast possibilities there were, even if it wasn’t what I wanted out of life.
“I think I get it,” I started to say, the words easing out, not scraping against my throat. “But I think my problem is that I don’t want to fill in the blanks. I want them filled in, written down on paper with ink that isn’t possible to erase.” I watched Isabelle, laughing with my brother, pointing at the screen of her camera and snapping pictures of him. “I wish I could have that,” I said, pointing at the two of them. “Laughter. I wish I could have Isabelle’s laughter, her sense of life, the energy she brings every time she walks into a room.”
“You have that,” Daniel replied.
“No I don’t,” shaking my head and picking at a scab on my leg, “I don’t think I ever will. Some people are just born wrong.” I picked too hard, the scab fallen off and onto the ground, blood dribbling down my knee.
Daniel shook his head and rummaged through his bag, “You need to stop doing that.” He grabbed a tiny plastic case, filled with two bandages, some surgical tape, gauze, a microscopic bottle of lemon scented hand sanitizer, and a miniature scissor – first aid kit on the go. “This happens every time you pick at them.” He poured some disinfectant on the wound, making me squirm. “Why do you do it?”
“Leave it to you to ask the hard questions,” I replied sarcastically, feeling a little edge in my voice. He placed the bandage on my leg delicately, afraid to cause any more wounds on my dry and fragile skin. “I guess,” I started saying, almost immediately regretting the words coming out of my mouth. “It’s the only pain in my life that I can control. And yes, it sounds like 1) that I need to be in control, which I do and 2) pretty cliché and sick but it’s the only way I can think to describe why I do it.”
“Well,” Daniel said, patting the bandage down firmly, making sure it won’t slip off from the heat. “How about you stop trying to be in control and just try to go with the flow? Carpe diem and stuff.” I wanted to laugh as he said carpe diem because it had been so outdone these days, especially with ‘YOLO’ becoming the new thing but I soon realized he was completely serious about it. Deciding to be respectful I simply nodded and gazed somewhere else, hoping to end the conversation at hand. “You know, if you learn to not be in control so much, maybe letting go would be easier.” I saw him watch me from the corner of eye, looking for clues to either keep talking or stop completely but he didn’t get the hint when I started to peel at the skin on my thumb. “I know it’s not something you do over night, but maybe… embracing change, rather than rejecting it, could be a better route to take.”
My skin felt like it was being pricked from the inside, blood gushing through my veins ready to run and hide from everything Daniel was saying, the words echoing even after he fell silent. My breathing felt shallow and uneven, the panic rising within. I started hyperventilating, my nervous system in complete shock and unable to move. Daniel hugged me and even though I didn’t want to be touched at that moment, it somehow made my entire system tranquil, the flight response in my body no longer ready. I looked at him, questioning the hug. “Hugs are used to relax the central nervous system, so basically your heart slows down.”
“How did you know that?” I asked as I rested my head on his chest.
“Like I said before,” he started saying, hugging me tighter, and relaxing me further. “My father was a doctor, and I am just as messed up as you are. If not more.” We broke into small chuckles, laughing at how messed up we both were and how willing we’d been over the past couple of weeks to admit it to the other.
“Thank you,” I said, feeling comfort in his hug. He hugged me tighter, laying his chin on my scalp, his breath even and unmoved. I was suddenly aware of how close were, that if we were in a movie we would both look at each other and stare intensely, kiss and live happily ever after.
The thought was making my heart race.
“You okay? You feeling another attack?” he asked, hugging me tighter, not helping this time, as I was in between wanting the hug and not being near him at all. I started to pull back, sending him a signal that our moment was over, and straightened my hair out, feeling a twinge of guilt reverberating at the back of my mind.
“I’m fine,” I said. “Let’s go bother the kids.”
“They’re both older than you.”
“Yes he is, by two minutes.”
“Could everybody stop saying that, it’s not that long!”
“According to David, it’s a pretty important distinction. And I love how much you love rules.” He smirked as he walked away, turning around only to put a mild emphasis on the words ‘love’, and ‘rules’.
When we approached David and Isabelle on the other side of the park we found them to be seated close together on the grass, all smiles and laughter and as we got closer to them they stopped, exchanging awkward glances and clearing their throats.
“Ready to head back to the hotel?” I asked them, not getting a single response. “Hello? I know you can hear me!” They both looked away, their cheeks flustered until they finally got up and walked towards their bikes. I leaned in to Daniel, asked, “What’s up with them?”
He laughed, as I looked utterly confused. “Are you serious?” he asked me and I nodded violently, trying to find out as soon as possible what was going on. “Wait, you’re serious? You really don’t see it?” I shook my head, waited impatiently, wanting to hear what ever combination of words he could form. “They like each other. And they most likely just made out.” My jaw dropped, literally and figuratively, it explained the flustered faces and inability to focus, the awkward glances, and the smiles exchanged between them.
They liked each other.
I was fuming with rage.
I ran up to them, giving David a push, forcing him to turn around and face me. “What Zoe?” he groaned, his eyes lazy and unfocused.
I came closer to him, my voice low enough for only him to hear. “What the hell are you doing David?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You like Isabelle?” his eyes shot up, nervously looking between Isabelle and me, her looking utterly confused and in the dark. “We talked about this, you’re not supposed to fall for my friends anymore!” my voice came out louder than it should have, Isabelle now gasping and looking more flustered.
David’s jaw clenched, his hands in fists. “So what if I like her? You can’t stop me! What if she is one of your friends? I can’t help who I fall for!” he walked over to her, taking her by the arm and walking away from me.
“Go ahead! Walk away! That’s the one thing you’re good at!” I yelled, instantly wanting to take my words back, wishing I could rewind the clock to where my anger stopped taking over my stupid mouth.
David stopped, Isabelle coming to the halt from the force of the break in their pace. He looked back at me, the vein on his forehead looking larger than it had before. “I learnt from the best.” He said, looking straight at me with a stare which could make even Putin uncomfortable. I choked back any questions I had at who he meant when he said that, because deep down I knew exactly who he meant.
Forty-five days before
I stayed clear of Isabelle and David, staying in Daniels room after realizing that David had probably initiated the same tactic. I couldn’t sleep, it was strange to be in a bed with another guy, and especially one I had mixed feelings for.
Anyways, I didn’t have time for sleep, I had made plans to meet Julian in the parking lot at 02:15, late enough for everyone to have gone to sleep, but not late enough for it to be suspicious if someone walked by as we talked. I put some sandals on and snuck out of the room, making sure I had my phone with me.
I walked into the lobby and saw the bar, ordered an overpriced tequila shot before I headed out, figuring I could use some liquid courage. I walked out into the brisk night air, shivering from my lack of clothes. My heart was racing as I looked for Julian in between cars, trying to find his red mini cooper.
A set of lights flashed on and for a moment I thought I was going to be mugged or kidnapped or maybe both, but I soon realized it was Julian who was flashing his lights as to signal me inside his car. My mother would not have been proud of my actions right now, granted she would not have been proud that I was out in Gothenburg without her permission in the first place. I peered through the window on the other side of the driver seat, making sure that it was him and not a killer, at least listening to one of the rules my mother had provided me with when I was younger.
“Hey,” I said as I stepped inside the car, fumbling with my hands out of sheer nervousness.
“Hey,” he replied, as he put the car into first gear, ready to drive us to the mysterious spot where Fi might have been and the reasons for why she came here in the first place.
“What’d you find?” I asked, getting straight to the point for once in my life. “But before that… I need to know how they found her body. I need to know why the police think they left and where they found her.”
“You still can’t remember?” he asked me, staring straight ahead. I shook my head no, hoping he could feel the breeze it sent and continue talking. He sighed right before he spoke. “The police think she left because of some guy, they never could figure out which guy but they claim they found some note in her bag?”
“You sound skeptical.”
“Because I am,” he said, shaking his head. “It was too easy. You know? In the movies it’s never that easy. The bad guy doesn’t leave evidence, if he wants to be found he doesn’t leave a note he sent her. He just takes her.”
“You think she was taken?” my pulse was racing, what if she was still alive?
“Keira is a lot of things. Impulsive, love-struck,” he said, staring at me. “But she’s not stupid. Keira reads like a maniac, she even reads those books on serial killers. She doesn’t jump into just any car. She does a thorough background check, and then she does a background check on that background check.” I nodded; realizing that Julian was making a lot of sense. “Anyways. The police never actually found a body. Maybe that’s why nobody ever reminded you of that fact, so you wouldn’t hold on to hope.” I was going to puke. I was going to puke in this car because it was going to be too much for me. How had I not remembered that her body was never found? How had I not done an investigation of my own after having done so many pretend murder cases with Keira before?
I got out of the car, nearly hitting the car next to us and setting off the alarm, and puked until I was dry-heaving. “I’m sorry,” I said, taking a wet-napkin from Julian, “it’s just so much all at once. I… I couldn’t handle it. But proceed.” I threw the napkin in the bin and took a mint out of my pocket, trying not to shiver from the mint taste flowing through my sinuses.
“You sure you’re okay?” he asked, spraying me a little with his axe body spray. “Because this next part might be heavy.” I nodded, trying to ignore my throbbing headache. “So I went to my grandparents the other day in Italy and I stayed in the guest bedroom. I didn’t think much of it until I opened the closet and found a loose floorboard.” My ears were opening up; I looked at him in anticipation. “I found her journal.” For as long as I had known Keira she had always kept a journal, always bringing it along, and me and Julian always teased her about it, claiming she probably had so many scandals written down that she could make an empire out of them. “But here’s the weird thing, the police already found her journal. I remember because I told them about it and how she always carried it around. So, I violated her privacy and opened it up and it wasn’t her usual journal.”
“What do you mean? They all look the same don’t they?”
“You’d think that. But I remember when we were younger and she yelled at me for opening another journal and on the inside there was always the same quote, carpe noctem. In every journal.”
“Not in this one?”
He shook his head, “this one said memento mori. Now, my Latin is quite dry but I think it means-“
“Remember you will die.” I finished. He looked at me surprisingly. “We read it in a book when we were little, we thought it was so beautiful and as we grew up we thought of it as the morbid version of carpe diem.”
“Okay, that doesn’t solve anything but I guess it could solve something along the way,” he scratched his head, agitated from the thoughts running around in his head like horses. “Anyways, this journal is like her side journal. I read the journals the police gave back, they recorded her daily activities like what you guys did, what boys she made out with or what book she was interested in. But the other one? It had her nightly activities, including the girl she cheated with on your brother.”
“What do you mean cheated with?” How was I going to tell David?
“She never named her, only by her initial ‘L’. She went into some pretty graphic details… I never wanted to know my sister so intimately.” I hurled again at the thought of having to break the news to my brother, afraid of what his reaction might be but found this to be impossible because I knew Keira, and she had never once in a million years mentioned she went both ways. “I think this girl, whoever she is, is the key to everything.”
“But if she’s the key then why didn’t the police find her? She must’ve come forward with anything she knew.” Julian seemed frantic, his hands jittery and tapping the steering wheel, afraid the words might never be said if he doesn’t get them out fast enough.
“Not if she’s a part of it,” he became silent for a while, watching the car in front of us driving away. “Don’t you think it’s odd that Keira just left? I mean. She had everything going for her. Nothing was going wrong. And then she left.”
“You’re starting to sound like you’re about to propose that she’s alive.”
“That’s because I do.”
“Even if you’re right,” I started to say, taking deep breaths as I tried to correctly formulate my sentences, not leaving anything out. Daniel was right, I had to let go, even when I was faced with filaments of hope. “Even if you’re right that she did go willingly with this girl, who planted such good evidence of her bloody clothes and strands of hair near them, what makes you think she’s alive? Kidnappers usually kill within 48 hours, they don’t keep them for one and a half years.”
“I have a gut feeling!” he cried, slamming his fist on the wheel. “I never saw her body, how do I say goodbye to someone whose non-existent pulse I couldn’t feel?”
“I don’t know, but… remember how Keira always left before? Days at a time, she’d always come back, smiling and refreshed.” I said, grabbing a hold of his hand. He looked out the window, a tiny droplet sliding down his cheek, as he tried to choke back the rest. I sighed, “Keira left. You didn’t. Don’t go looking for someone who doesn’t want to be found. You can’t keep doing this to yourself. We have to let go of her…” I didn’t believe a word of what I was saying, feeling the lies in between each syllable as I tried to comfort the brother of my best friend. “Get some sleep, we’ll talk in the morning.” I squeezed his hand goodbye and left the car, ready to get some shuteye before today’s adventures.
As I walked back to the hotel I contemplated texting David to try and beg for forgiveness but I didn’t even get the chance to get my phone out before I saw him sitting on a bench outside the entrance, smoking a cigarette, and looking off into the far distance.
“Hey,” I said, as I nervously stood in front of him, uncertain if he would allow me to sit next to him. “Do you mind?” I asked as I pointed to the bench. He scooted over to his left, making some room for me. I looked up at the sky, hoping to find the right words written in the stars. “I’m sorry,” I said. “And I know that doesn’t even begin to cover what I said to you or for how I’ve been acting, but I’m just so sorry. I just…”
“I know,” he said, taking a drag and then offering me one, which I gladly accepted. As I tried to light the cigarette, David continued to speak. “Isabelle told me after we argued in the park.” I wanted to say something. I wanted to tell him that he wasn’t the problem and that he could like anybody he wanted to, that I was the one being stupid. “I get that you don’t want me to date her,” he said as stepped on the cigarette butt, “because you think I’ll steal someone else from you.” I listened to his voice as his voice echoed into the night, slapping my abandonment issues right in the face.
“I’m sorry I’m messed up,” I said, taking a drag, a tear about to escape. “I don’t mean to be…”
“We learnt from the master, huh?” he smiled at me, his eyes glowing as he started to speak about Keira. “You know, she loved playing games. Always leaving clues for us to find her when she’d be bored.” I tried to remember Keira and her twisted games, not telling anybody where she went or what she was doing, barely talking about it when she came back. She left so many times; always fearing that she might never come back. And now she finally had.
“Why do you think she left?” I asked, trying to restrain myself from breaking down into tears. “It’s just… she just left. No explanation, no clues.”
“You want me to be honest?” he asked, staring straight at me, his eyes darker, and his jaw tighter. “I think she was afraid. Afraid of what staying in one place was doing to her, afraid to hold on to something that might not be there.”
“You think that’s why she played the games with us? Leaving before…”
“She could be found,” he finished. “Yeah. It’s easier being the one who’s leaving than being the one left behind.” We stared into the distance, watching the stars shine, realizing that they were probably dead, or at least in the process of dying out.
“Do you forgive me?” I asked, my voice faltering. “For leaving you behind. For mentally checking out. For doing the exact same thing she did?”
He shook his head. “It’s not about forgiving each other Zoe. We need to forgive her, bury her, before we can move on. It’s not our fault she got killed Zoe,” he said, taking a breath before continuing. “She left. And then she died. We can’t hold on to her as if she’s here, waiting for us around the corner. We need to move on before she starts playing games with us again.”
“Look at you,” I said, giving him a light nudge. “Has Isabelle seen this deep, brooding side of you?” I smiled at him, trying to lighten the mood and get his thoughts off the girl that had ultimately left him for another adventure. He smiled at me and shook his head, trying to brush off my comment about Isabelle. “You think she’s watching us?” I asked, pointing to the stars.
He leaned his elbows on his knees, looking up at the sky, stroking the stubble formed on his chin. “I don’t know. But I’m hoping she is. And I’m hoping she can give us a definite sign of her absence sometime soon, so we can give her a proper sendoff into the afterlife.”
We spent the remainder of that day walking around town until we finally found the main attraction: Liseberg. We’d been looking forward to the amusement park ever since we booked the trip; ready to take a giant leap forward, and put the small amusement parks we’d been to before to shame. We went on most attractions, only stopping to hydrate or eat. By the time we had decided on dinner most shops were closing.
“Well,” David said, wiping the sweat off his forehead with his t-shirt. “Where do we eat? Everything seems to be closing.” We stood outside the park, watching the city crowded with people, violent laughter erupting here and there in between groups.
“Wait,” I said, suddenly remembering the sushi restaurant I had seen yesterday. “There is a place by the hotel, but it closes in ten minutes.” We all looked at each other, trying to decide the fastest route to the hotel and getting to the restaurant before the kitchen closed. “Okay! I think I have something,” I yelled, a little too loud, raising some heads. “Daniel and I, we’ll run. David and Isabelle, you guys will bike and whoever gets there first, orders, okay?” The adrenaline in my body was rushing. I was excited, I suddenly felt like I was on Amazing Race and had to beat the other contestants.
We took off at the same time, making it a contest, seeing who could get there fairly. Daniel and I sprinted, me ahead of him, feeling the wind hitting my face and my hair felt liberating, every limb of my body exhausted from today’s activities but still pushing. “I’m a big bad wolf!” I screamed, glancing at Daniel catching up to me and laughing, making me distracted and almost run into a pole. “There it is!” I yelled, pointing at the neon sign, which was flashing, hoping they would still take our orders. I pushed myself harder, my feet no longer feeling like my own, the people I passed by looking like nothing but flashes of paparazzi, hearing some people yell, “You can do it!” as I passed them by. I felt invincible, the grief that had been living inside of me suddenly gone for a fleeting moment, letting me feel something other than the weight on my shoulders.
Daniel and I arrived in front of the restaurant just as David and Isabelle parked their bikes, each laughing at one another from across the street, unable to breathe. We went inside and ordered in between breaths, trying not to scare the waitress with our inability to formulate a comprehensive order. As we waited for our sushi, we each ordered a beer, toasting to our amazing race and I suddenly felt myself at ease. Watching my friends and brother laugh at each other, seeing Isabelle replace Keira, as David’s new girlfriend, didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would and knowing she didn’t play twisted games made my heart feel better. I sipped my beer, watching the others as they replayed the adventure we’d just been on and Daniel insisting that we do it again but on tape, to capture the moment, everyone laughing him off and saying no way in hell that they’d do that ever again.
Isabelle pulled out her camera, snapping photos of us when we weren’t aware, taking them minutes apart, not creating a story without a second-by-second play. She caught one of me where I tried to hide my laughter, my hand covering up my mouth and my eyes closed. I shook my head at the photo and stole her camera, capturing a photo of the four of us from a bad angle – all smiles and no devils sitting on our shoulders, perfectly content with the curve ball life had handed us this summer.
Forty-two days before
I’m driving, the wind is in my hair, shades covering my eyes from the bright sun, Keira is sitting next to me, and she’s smiling so wide her white teeth look like fields of snow. She looks at me and puts her hand on the stick, putting it in the sixth gear.
“You know what to do,” she says as she winks, “the weather only agrees with us once a year so why not take advantage of it?” I balance my feet between the clutch and the gas pedals and find the car speeding faster and faster until it feels like we’re driving faster than the speed of light. We both laugh and scream out of joy. It’s perfect until it isn’t and there is a car that drives right into us.
I wake up drenched in sweat, unsure if it’s from the horrible heat or from the nightmare running through my head. My body feels disgusting and I am suddenly aware that I probably smell it too. I raise myself from the bed, lingering in that in between state of not being fully aware, and oblivion.
“Uuuuugh” I heard from the other side of the apartment. I realize I’m not in my room and that this still isn’t my bed, when will I learn to not fall asleep in other peoples’ beds? I grab the thin blanket and place it around my shoulder as I walk into the adjoining room, resting by the doorframe and watching Daniel as he rolled around on his bed. If anybody had walked in right now, I would have seemed love-struck. But that wasn’t the case at all.
“Hey sleepy head get up. You’re wasting the day. Go Carpe Diem and stuff.” I teasingly threw a tiny cushion from the floor straight at him and giggle a little.
He looked at me and said, “You do realize I’ve been up for a couple of hours right? This is my second nap. And because it is my second nap, I am aware that you missy just woke up. So, you go carpe diem and stuff.” He throws the pillow back at me and laughs. I wanted to go over to him and tickle him and be annoying and playfully fight with him but I didn’t. I realized how that would look, because I have seen every chick flick there is and that is how you end up kissing the guy.
It starts out with the play fighting, the guy and girl laugh like there is no tomorrow. And then comes the moment when the guy holds the girl’s wrists and they both fall silent, gazing into each other’s eyes until one of them makes the first move. And I wasn’t ready to do that. Or sure if I was allowed to. Or if I liked Daniel in that way. I just didn’t know.
I smiled at him lightly and then retreated back to the bedroom, laying myself back in bed but kicking off the covers. I put my hair up in a loose bun and grabbed my phone from the bed, adhering to my routine of endless scrolling through nothing. I put my phone down and grabbed my glasses, in attempt or wanting to read, but the nothingness washes over me and I turn on my playlist instead. City and Colour blasts from the speakers, starting from the spot where I had last stopped which was the upbeat chorus. I find my feet and hands moving wildly and suddenly I am dancing in the room like I’m five years old again. I sing along at the top of my lungs and play air guitar, realizing I look stupid as all hell. I let my bun fall out and feel the weight on my shoulders lift a little. By the time the song has ended, I drop to the floor, panting like there is no tomorrow and watch as Daniel slow-claps at my performance. I smile, get up, and bow.
“Thank you, thank you! There will be another performance tomorrow after breakfast.”
“Can’t wait.” He stands by the doorframe, his jaw looking more chiseled than usual due to the angle of the sunlight, his eyes sparkling. If this were a movie, we would stare incessantly and then make out on the bed like our lives depended on it. I wanted it and I didn’t want it. I was torn between two extremes. We watched each other in silence until I turned around to avoid his eyes.
I turn towards the window. “Such a nice day out,” I started to say, “We should probably go out. To the beach or something. Or wait; there is no beach here. Gah. What to do?” I don’t turn around to look at him but I feel his presence behind me, his eyes jarring into my back. He steps closer and I hear how his breathing becomes louder, not because it is heavier but because I am suddenly conscious of it. “Or we could just go out for ice cream.” I can’t shut up. I want to shut up and kiss him but I don’t dare, because once it’s done, there is no going back. “Or maybe, we could just sit on the balcony and talk. That would be nice” He is standing only a few centimeters behind me now, the heat from my body is radiating and I need a shower for more than one reason. I finally turn around, facing him head on, but refusing to meet his eyes. My eyes are gazing at the marble tiles behind him, trying to regain my breathing. He lifts my chin up slowly and kisses me. For a moment, I don’t kiss him back; I just stand there letting myself be kissed by someone I feel an attraction to. I stand there, my lips still slightly parted.
“I should go,” he starts to say, “I’m sorry.” He starts to retreat towards the doorway. This was the movie moment; I either let him go or I keep him. There was only room for one option; I couldn’t have both. But by the time I made up my mind he had already left, ultimately making my decision for me, just like my mother had to my dad all those years ago with the cheese doodles, except I never had the time to react.
Thirty-five days before
It had been a week since Daniel had kissed me in the hotel room, and we hadn’t spoken since. There was a moment in the elevator when it was just him, waiting for the ride to finally stop, when I wanted to talk to him but just as I opened my mouth, so did the doors and my chance to bring it up. He hadn’t seemed awkward about it, nor did he seem embarrassed but he didn’t utter a single word about it, steering clear of me altogether. It came to the point where even Isabelle noticed that something was wrong and then immediately started to make fun of me and asking me all these questions about whether or not I liked him.
“Do you think you’re ready?” she had asked me.
I answered her the way I answered most questions these days, “I don’t know.”
Thirty days before
“You ready for this?” David asked me, ready to go back home with me if I needed it. I nodded, my hands sweaty and the box almost slipping out of my grasp. I took a deep breath, opened the tiny lock, and peered inside of it. There were clippings of me, tiny accomplishments I had made – won the annual spelling bee, the article I wrote in the local paper – and letters I’d written with some funny drawings on them. I looked at them closely, examining my handy work, the effort I put into the words I’d written and getting each detail right on the family portrait I’d made of mine and Tyler’s future family, even allowing him to grow a hobo beard.
I grabbed the drawing I had made, folding it twice before finally tearing it up. A pain jolted up my arm, my breath became shallow and my head started throbbing but I ignored it, hoping that by getting rid of whom I was once with would allow me to let go of at least one person. I took the clippings of myself, looking at the radiant photo of myself, tracing the outline of each individual letter that formed the word ‘winner’.
“You want to throw those out too?” David asked, staring at the newspaper clippings. I kept looking at them; uncertain as to if letting go of who I was would help me in any way. I decided to put them beside me on the boardwalk and return to them later. I fumbled with a letter I had written Tyler for his birthday; the first one we had spent together. I teared up at how sweet and loving our relationship seemed, like it would have lasted decades, and made an impeccable love triumphs all story for our grandchildren. I slit the letter in half and put it back in the box with the remaining pieces of paper. “You need me or can you do it?”
“I can do it,” I replied, my voice hoarse and dry from not having said much in the last couple of days. I closed the box, locking it with the miniature key. I sighed as I threw the key in the water, hearing the splash after a couple of seconds. I could no longer open the box, no matter how much I wanted to. I gently placed the box on the water, sending it off with a little nudge. I watched the waves carrying the tiny box until it sunk down, bearing the remnants of my last relationship.
“That feel good?” David asked, his one arm on my shoulder giving it a little squeeze. I nodded and gave him a little smile right before I rested my head on his shoulder, watching the waters crash against each other and that’s when I remembered the newspaper clippings. I looked to my left, looking for the clippings, only to see them blown away, gone with the wind; no longer feeling the weight of fighting against a part of who I was.
Twenty-eight days before
When I awaken I’m not in my bed, room, or building – I feel it. My eyes feel heavy and the back of my head sore, some tubes connected to my arm. I can’t make out where I am, my eyelids refusing to open. “Where the hell am I?” I mumble, hoping there is someone here to answer.
“She’s up! We need a doctor over here!” I heard a familiar voice say but unable to distinguish the voice from the person. “Hey Zoe, can you remember anything?”
“What are you talking about?” I try to raise myself from the bed but find that I lack the strength and only collapse back, the pain at the back of my skull acting up again. “Am I in a hospital?” I was confused. And I was tired. And I was not in the mood to be those things.
“Just hold on, the doctor will explain everything,” the voice said that I guessed belonged to David, but I couldn’t be sure. I waited for what felt like hours, unable to open my eyes or get up from the stupid bed, impatiently wanting to know what the hell had happened to me, whilst at the same time trying not to drift in and out of sleep.
A man wearing a white coat walked in, presumably the doctor. “Hi Zoe,” he said, holding a clipboard and looking at the monitor by my head, scrawling down numbers and leaving me and my brother utterly confused. “It seems you’ve fainted and had a little fall, leaving a little bump at the back of your head.” I instinctively touched the back of my head, feeling the bump and a twinge of pain as I poked it, also knowing that this really wasn’t a dream. The doctor asked me a couple of questions. Whether or not I had fainted before, if I had headaches (which I blamed on my teeth grinding), if I was stressed out (which I blamed on college acceptance letters rolling in soon), and various questions about which medications I take. “We’re not going to keep you overnight. If you feel like you are going to, or do, vomit, we advise you to come in as soon as possible as there could be an underlying concussion if the surface you fell on was especially solid. A nurse will come in soon and take your blood work. Any questions?” I shook my head no, wanting this ordeal to be over as soon as possible. He left hastily, probably wanting to steal the best surgery from another attending like they do on all those medical dramas.
“Now tell me,” I said groggily, slurring my words as I tried to think of what I was to say next. “How pissed are mother and daddy?”
“They don’t know. Thank the universe for that one.” I inhaled the sterile air around me with joy. “I told mom and dad that you were in the shower when we got here and that we were going to have game night with your friends. They won’t call until tomorrow to check in on us.” I offered my hand to David as a way of thanking him for not inviting the wrath of our mother over something I couldn’t control.
“She probably would’ve said that I was malnourished and fed me everything within sight,” I said, scratching around the area where the IV had been inserted, thankful that I wasn’t awake to see the needle pricking my skin.
“You probably are. No wonder you get those dumb headaches of yours.” I was about to argue with him, telling him that it wasn’t the lack of food, which caused the headaches, but rather my grinding molars, but I lacked the energy. Instead, David and I watched a bad soap opera with two teenagers running around town trying to find their missing friend. I looked at David and saw him pick at some skin around his lip – the sign of thinking David.
“What’s wrong?” I said, switching the channels to something more lighthearted.
“You said you were sorry,” he sighed. I looked at him in confusion, hoping he wouldn’t say her name, hoping he hadn’t heard my confession. “You said ‘I’m sorry Kee, please don’t go’.” I looked at him as he tried to avert my gaze, as he tried to avoid the uncomfortable topic he had just brought up. “Did you… did you see her before she left?”
I tried to sit up, the weight of my drugged body parts too heavy for my weak arms. “No,” I said. My words were heavy and they stung as I tried to spell out each syllable, afraid to say the words I had kept inside for three years. “I… I did something when you two first started dating.” I fidgeted with my fingers, peeling off the skin near my thumb and allowing the blood to ooze out a little before I let it dry. “I kissed her,” I sighed more, tears starting to run down my cheeks. “Because I was in love with her.” I gasped for air as I broke into heavy sobs. I had told my secret. I had told my brother that I was in love with his dead ex-girlfriend. And I felt horrible.
“Hey hey hey,” David started saying, scooting over to the bed and holding my hand. “Why are you crying?” he looked at me sincerely, not with hatred in his eyes like I had imagined. I tried to tell him but my mouth kept opening and closing, not a single phonetic unit leaving my lips.
I wanted to tell him that I hated him for being with her.
I wanted to tell him that I was jealous of him for getting to know a part of her that I never got to.
I wanted to tell him that she was my everything.
“I just… I feel like I’m guilty for even kissing her because she was dating you and she’s my best friend and I don’t know. I just feel guilty for loving her.”
“Is it because you’re not sure if you play for both teams?” I nodded my head, looking down at my hands, afraid to meet his eyes. “You know,” he said, lifting my chin up to meet his eyes, the other hand wiping away a few leftover tears with a napkin. “You don’t have to play for any team at all. You can just love whom you love and not give it another thought. Boy, girl, or alien – just love whom you love.” He kissed my temple and rubbed my shoulder, offering some heat to my hollow casing of a body.
I liked David’s outlook on love. I liked the idea of loving somebody just because of who they were, not because they were the gender you thought you should love because that was what you were taught to do since kindergarten. I liked the idea of loving someone because of what they contained inside their body, not the constituents which made their physical appearance.
I started feeling less guilty about my feelings towards Keira.
Twenty-seven days before
I woke up lightheaded from the lack of water; I had left my good water bottle at Fi’s. I headed for the kitchen hoping to avoid my parents and their questioning about how game night went yesterday.
“Hello sister,” David said from behind the island situated in the kitchen. I jumped, scared of the sudden voice echoing between the walls. He was leaning on the kitchen counter holding two envelopes; both larger than regular envelopes and a shade darker than the usual white we receive from the dentist or the bank. “It’s the day,” he said, waving the two envelopes at me as if I were an invalid.
Which I was, since I had forgotten today was the day of college acceptance letters. My eyes grew a full two sizes bigger than they should’ve, the blood in my body gushing towards my legs urging me to run over there and tear the letter apart to see if I would be stuck here with mom and dad for another year pretending to do something productive with my life or actually do something I like. “Cool, hand me mine would ya?” I said as calmly as I could. If I played it out correctly then David couldn’t hold the letter as a hostage and force me to do chores for him. He looked at me for a moment, contemplating whether or not to torture me, but rather quickly handed over an envelope.
But it wasn’t my envelope.
It was his.
“I want you to open mine,” he said raising an eyebrow, “and I’ll open yours. And if it’s bad, I don’t want to see it.” I knew where he was coming from because I came from the same place, but I against my better judgement didn’t want to hide the truth, even if it meant I’d be rejected.
“Okay,” I said as I held up his envelope, waiting for his nod of approval to being the ceremony. I opened the letter as nicely as I could, careful not to rip any part of the letter. I scanned the letter for the word I had been hoping to see, only to feel my vision becoming blurry, the words unfocused.
“I didn’t get in, did I?” he said, turning around to look out the windows.
“No,” I started saying but before I could continue he had turned around and his eyes wide. “I mean I don’t know! My vision is too blurry to see. I need to get a spare pair of glasses here.”
He came over to my side of the island, a huge grin on his face as he read the words, “We are pleased to inform you that you have been offered a place of admission beginning the fall of 2014! I did it, I did it!” I squealed in joy as I hugged him, savoring the fleeting moment. After the momentary joy we picked up my letter, biting the skin around my thumb in both anticipation and worry. I had grades all over the scales, from worst to best, one of each letter at least.
David opened the letter, no facial movement as he read the letters on the paper. “Zo, you should probably go back to bed,” he said. I felt all the blood in my body rush downwards, ready to run into the bathroom and cry for days. “Because you’re going to have to rest before going to uni this fall,” I looked at him, not understanding the words that had just left his mouth. “You got in.”
“I got in?”
“You got in.”
“I did it?”
“You did it.”
“I did it!” I squealed and jumped him, taking the letter out of his hands, attempting to read the combination of letters, but finding it impossible with my cloudy vision. I hugged him tightly as I kept squealing, not completely understanding what had happened. “I have to go see where Fi got in!” I screamed and run away, barely getting my foot in my boots before I pedaled away on my bike to her loft.
I got there in less than twenty minutes, the adrenaline pushing through my legs, not even caring about the flights of stairs I had to take to reach her loft. I ran straight into Daniel – the first encounter since we’d started our vow of silence to one another. We stared at one another awkwardly, uncertain as to what we should do next. “I got into uni,” I said, waving my acceptance letter. A smirk formed on his lips, giving me a hug as he congratulated me, both of us lingering a little too long. “Anyways, I have news to deliver, see you later!” I said and sped up the stairs once again, my legs pushing harder than ever and fumbling with my keys as I reached the door to Fi’s.
I entered, picking up the pile of mail from the floor, trying to see if Fi had gotten hers too but received no such luck. Maybe they just hadn’t gotten to her yet, they did take certain districts certain days. I walked into the living room and found the place impeccably clean, almost like nobody had been home in days, but found that statement to be an utter lie when I walked into Fi’s room and established that it was a complete mess.
“Fi, wake up, I have some news,” I said as I nudged her until she woke up. Her hair was in a messy bun, letting it out, and forming a beautiful tangle of blonde locks – a supermodel without even having to try. I shoved the letter in her face, a huge grin on my face.
“I can’t read it. Just woke up. Eyes blurry,” she said, rubbing her sleepy eyes.
“It basically says I got into university.”
“You got in?” I nodded at her, uncertain if she was happy or unhappy from her tone but the thought quickly passed as she launched herself at me, toppling me onto my back. “You did it!” she squealed, hugging me even more, the scent of her shampoo still lingering in her hair from, most likely, yesterday. “I’m so proud of you,” she said, moving a strand of hair from my eyes, allowing me to take in her beauty.
She looked at me, her eyes so clear and deep; it was like I was drowning in them. I was drowning and I needed air. I needed her to get out alive. I kissed her, lightly at first, testing out the waters, she kissed me back, a hint of morning breath still there. Her mouth formed in an ‘o’ as I let go of that first kiss, watching her, hungering for her taste but not quite sure if it were appropriate. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t ha–” I started to say, slowly trying to get out of her grip but with no success, her eyes still jarring into me.
“Don’t go,” she said.
“Okay,” I replied back, my heart beating faster than it had ever done before. Her hand rested by my jaw, her entire body weight upon me feeling heavier by the second. Her fingers lightly tracing the veins of thighs arms as I attempt not to pass out from excitement. She explores the different parts of my body, treading carefully from thigh to stomach, stopping to examine my belly button and making me snicker, the smile on her face so radiant as she realizes what she’s done to me. I can’t look at her as she goes higher up, resting by my chest area to explore my two friends. I only look back at her once she reaches my lips and touches them with her lips, delicately slipping a tongue somewhere in there. I get tangled in her arms, items of clothing coming off by the millisecond after months of tension.
My phone rings and it never rings anymore. We both looked at the phone, her smile giving me the signal to make it quick so we can get back to being with one another whole-heartedly. I ran over to my phone which lay on the living room table, almost tripping on the clothes we’d thrown all over the floor.
The caller ID rambled up an unknown local number and I answered.
It was the doctor calling to book an appointment regarding the blood test.
I had to go in tomorrow to discuss them.
I politely thanked the doctor and hung up, returned to Fi with a smile on my face. Fake it ’til you make it. Her voice was echoing, it was back and I knew I had to listen to her.
“Everything okay?” Fi asked, her hair all tangled up from being in my arms for so long. She looked so beautiful underneath the bed sheets, the smile on her face no longer as radiant, as if she knew that something bad was about to happen.
I smiled at her before lunging at her, toppling her on her back like she had done to me earlier. It was my turn to be in charge. “Perfect,” I whispered in her ear as I kissed her all over, feeling her trembling body beneath mine.
I wanted to press pause, enhance the frame, and live in this moment forever.
I always was a damn fool.
Twenty-six days before
“Take a seat ma’am, we’ll be with you shortly,” a nurse said as she pointed me to the waiting room. I made a perimeter check before getting myself seated, noticing the chipped ceiling and overflowing wastebasket, making a note of the tear stained napkins. There was a fleeting stench hovering in the air, unrecognizable, and the people just as temporary. I watched as the nurse claimed that the doctor would be with the remaining patients of the waiting room in just a minute and tell the lie over and over again each quarter of the hour. I don’t know how long I sat there, or how long I think I sat there, watching sobbing parents as a surgeon came out with droopy eyes and a mumble of words, watching their legs give up as the news sunk in. I watched the woman in the corner standing by the coffee machine, trembling hands as she instantly regrets her choice of warm beverage right after pressing the button and going through the process all over again. I watched the mumbling man pacing around the waiting room on the phone with his daughter or son, claiming that mommy will be all right; she just had a minor fall.
The doctor I saw a couple of days ago stands in front of me and extends his hand to me, tells me to follow him to his office. I gather my things, my bag, and sweater, taking one last perimeter check before leaving the waiting room. Everyone is busy with something, fumbling with a gadget or desperately trying to read a magazine in hopes of being distracted, trying not to imagine the fat, ugly, pink elephant with the word “dead” scrawled all over it. Being stuck in this cube of waiting would be enough for anyone to go mad and end up in psych; lucky for us it’s right down the hall.
I follow the doctor through the never-ending hall, peering into slightly ajar doors, hearing the awful cries of terminally ill patients, peering into operating rooms only to see a patient lost, finding wastebaskets all over the hall with napkins stained with phlegm and mascara.
We finally reach the end of the corridor and walk into an office much fancier than the other ones I peered into. This office had a carpeted floor and incredibly comfortable chairs, walls decorated with awards and plaques, small mementos of the doctors family on the desk – smiles so genuine you wouldn’t know the photo was probably staged.
His hands are intertwined with one another as he sets them on the desk; back pin straight and his eyes look at mine as he begins. “There is no easy way to say this and I wish you would have brought someone here to support you,” he pushes the bridge of his glasses further up but they keep slipping as he utters the next few words. “Your blood work indicates that you have a form of brain cancer.”
In between his words of having to take an MRI and come in for further consultation I drift off, trying to remember just how well I felt in the presence of Fi and wishing she was here. I watched his lips move, forming new syllables as in the most clear and least painful way he knew how. There are some moments in life where time just stops. But this wasn’t the case. I was going forwards in time and at the same time I was going backwards. And in real life the addition and subtraction signs don’t cancel out, they just create a whole mess.
I sat there numb, trying to regain feeling in the tips of my fingers, trying to determine whether or not this was just a bad dream or a bad soap opera I was watching but I could feel the pain in my leg as I jarred my nail into myself, creating a little tear in my skin.
“Would you like for me to call someone?” the doctor says. His eyes are full of concern and I wonder how many times he’s had to do this before, if every patient who walks into this office receives the same type of news, and if he uses this tone for them as well. I nod my head yes and try to find the contact I need, click the beautiful photo of us and hand the phone over to the doctor.
I sit there paralyzed as the phone call is made, fumbling with my fingers as I push back my tears, filling the void inside me fill with numbness. The doctor hands me the phone and says my contact will be here soon and that I should wait outside until I have my support system here so we can talk more about procedure. I nod and leave, my body not feeling like my own.
I’m back in the waiting room and I see a family with their little daughter, smiling because she only sprained her ankle, carried away by her father who hugs her tightly. I envy them as they walk out, good news in hand – recover is imminent – unsure that bad news lurks around every corner.
I consider calling my parents, telling them that their only daughter might die but decide it’s best to wait, to deliver bad news in person. I watch as the revolving doors spin, bringing new and frantic people into the waiting area, leaving happy individuals going out of them.
Daniel comes in through those doors, looking frantic, his shirt inside out. He spots me as I stand up to go to him, watches me as I am paralyzed, and catches me in his arms right before my legs give up. I let out silent sobs, grasping at him as he tries to steady me, my eyes closed and my mouth trying to form words. My throat struggles to announce the words, “Let’s go to the chapel.” He nods and gives me a tissue to wipe away my tears.
We walk into the chapel which lies on the ground floor, only one or two people in there as well, unaware of our presence. We seat ourselves in the back to go unnoticed and I stare up at the ceiling, unsure of what I was doing in here in the first place. “You want to know the worst feeling in the world?” I whisper to Daniel, receiving a nod in return. “Praying to a God you’re sure doesn’t exist, but doing it anyways. That’s the worst feeling in the world. Because you’ve run out of options and you’ve got nobody else to run to so you run to someone who isn’t there because when logic fails, you go to hope. Hope that the universe isn’t playing a prank on you; hope that there is someone watching out for you.” I tear up as I utter the last words, truly hoping that there is someone watching out for me. Daniel places an arm around me and rubs my shoulder. “I’m glad you came,” I whisper. I place me head on his shoulder and inhale deeply, trying to imagine the size of my tumor and hoping I can beat the shit out of it.
He walks back with me as we go back to the doctor’s office for further information. I listen this time, trying not to break down at the words coming out of his mouth. Brain tumor. Possibly cancerous. MRI necessary to determine which type. Calcification. Personality change. Headaches. Hallucinations. I found Daniel to answer most questions for me as I couldn’t bring myself to speak, overwhelmed by the words and phrases thrown at me. The doctor took notes and told us to walk down the hall so I could get my MRI scan done. Daniel took my hand and guided me there, waiting outside the room as I went inside.
Inside the room with the huge machine that looked like it would suck me whole, I changed into an ugly off-white gown after stripping down to only my underwear. The gown felt cold, and not at all comforting, not to mention that my back was exposed. I glanced at the people walking around, at the man on the other side of the glass who was looking at the form my doctor had filled out, glancing from screen to paper. A blanket was placed on the lower part of my legs and I felt less exposed, less like a fish in a fish bowl. I held on tightly to the blanket as the machine started to warm up, indicating I was soon to be indulged by it. I was given a set of earplugs to place in my ears, possibly to dampen the noise from the machine. I was so confused and worry flashed over my face but was soon relieved by the technician on the other side of the glass saying, “This will all be over soon. Breathe, try to stay still, and try to think of something happy to distract yourself.”
The machine started moving and I was moving into the cocoon, probably not coming out as a butterfly. My head was in a groove and it made not moving so much easier but my hands felt like they had to move, to do something with themselves. I closed my eyes instead; trying to think of the room I had built for myself when I had been with Daniel, grateful that he was just outside the door.
The MRI took about twenty minutes but it felt like hours and I felt a bit refreshed as I emerged from the cave I had been stuck in. My eyes attempted to adjust to the light, seeing specks of color in the room. “I should call Fi,” I said. Attempting to grab my phone out of the bag when Daniel stopped me and looked into my eyes.
“Zoe,” he said, his eyes looked bleak and hurt. “Fi won’t show up.”
“Yes, yes she will. I know she will. She wouldn’t not show up, she’s my best friend, you know?” I continued to rummage through my bag, frustrated by all the crap that been building up in there.
“She’s not real. And I’m pretty sure you know that.” I stared into my bag, one hand in, and the other laying faintly on the chair next to me. I turned my head and tried to speak, my mouth opening and closing, only puffs of air coming out.
“What are you talking about?” I didn’t dare to look at him; afraid he would think I was crazy.
He sighed. “I talked to David and asked about her. You had mentioned her but you’d never brought her around.” I couldn’t believe that David thoughts I was crazy and he had never tried to say anything. “He didn’t dare to say anything, afraid you might topple over again.” I was becoming angry, the fury rising within. “He thought it best to let you believe Fiona was real…”
“She is real,” I snapped. “I was with her yesterday and we made out and we slept together and it was amazing!” I saw some heads turn, a little girl playing with some blocks and looking confused, her eyes so much like Keira’s. “Don’t try to tell me she isn’t real, I had such an amazing day with her yesterday,” I hissed between my teeth. I got up to leave and walked into the tower made of blocks that the little girl had built, her cries echoing behind me as I left through the revolving doors.
Twenty-three days before
“Zoe, wake up, you have to clean the house before everyone arrives!” I heard my mother yell from across the hall. I groaned in agony, my head pounding – now with a legitimate reason for doing so – as I reached out for my phone and saw that I had no text messages whatsoever. I had hoped for one from Daniel, any text, but was clearly disappointed.
“Ready to be a fish in a fish bowl?” David said as he smirked, leaning onto the doorframe in a dress shirt and skinny jeans. I groaned and placed a pillow onto my face, wishing I could disappear.
The guests arrived at around 18, all smiles and cheek kisses, handing David and me some small gifts as they entered. I watched the crowd gather in our living room, laughing at the pictures of David and me as children, hugging us in congratulations of our college acceptances.
I went outside and sat with David, greeting everyone as they approached our house. I was suddenly startled when I saw a familiar figure approaching, wondering how he even got invited.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, trying to sound pleasant but realizing that’s not I had come off.
“Your parents invited me,” Daniel said, handing me a tiny present. “I thought you guys wanted me here?”
“Of course we do,” David intercepted. “My sister is just tired, headaches and stuff.” David was trying to make the situation easier, to make it less weird, but he only managed to make it more awkward between Daniel and me. “Anyways, shall we go out back for some party favors?” David smirked, revealing a flask hidden in the inner pocket of his jacket. Daniel and I exchanged glances before following Julian as he walked out back through the garden and into the little shed dad had built for gardening tools but ended up as our secret talk spot.
Daniel sat next to me on the bench, much like the bench I had sat on when I had been with that random guy at the party, and David sat in front handing around the flask, each of us taking a gulp each of whatever nasty liquor David had poured inside. “You should tell him,” Daniel whispered to me as the flask came back to me. “You can’t hide this from him.” I stared at Daniel, partly in anger and partly in understanding. I gave Daniel a tightlipped smile, trying to gather the courage to tell David, hoping that telling him in front of Daniel will soften the blow and that he can bounce whatever he feels off the both of us.
“David?” I asked, handing him back the flask.
“Yeah?” he replied, not bothering to look up as he typed away on his phone.
“Ask me why I hate school.”
“Just do it.” Daniel intervened, trying not to look too alarmed.
“Why do you hate school my dear sister?” David said, continuing to scroll on his phone.
“Because they don’t teach you anything valuable. They don’t teach you how to handle all-nighters or how to juggle schoolwork with boys or even how to pay your stupid phone bill. They don’t tell you what to do when you wake up in the hospital after fainting, taking a blood test, only to find out you have a brain tumor. They send you off from one stage to another without instructions.” He stopped typing then, the light of his screen starting to dim from inactivity, his jaw drooping a little as the words I had said started to kick in.
“What do you mean brain tumor?”
“My fainting didn’t have anything to do with stress or lack of water, and my headaches aren’t because of my grinding teeth… I have a tumor,” I said, awaiting words from David but receiving none. “I haven’t told mom and dad yet, I will after the party. I just… I wanted us all to have this final party.”
“What? Like your goodbye party?” he snapped back, trying to use the touch ID on his phone to unlock it but failing to do so.
“It’s not like that David. I’m meeting the doctor in three days, he will tell me if it’s terminal or if it’s not. David look at me,” I said as I grabbed his chin and made him look at me. “Whatever it is, it’ll be fine.”
He looked at me, his eyes as hazel as mine, cracking a tiny smile. “What happened to my beloved cynical sister?”
I snickered, smiling at my brother but quickly dropping it as I said, “I need to believe it’s okay, because I’m not sure I can do anything else.” David embraced me just as I let a tear slide down my cheek and Daniel gave my hand, which was resting by my side, a little squeeze of comfort.
“David, I need you to tell her,” Daniel said. David started to let go of me as he went back to his bench, elbows resting on his knees, hands intertwined with one another, jaw slightly tensed. “I tried before, but she wouldn’t…”
“If this is about Fi,” I started to say. “I know she’s real. So stop badgering me about it.” The shed grew quiet as my voice bounced back and forth within, the breathing of our individual selves not in sync.
“She’s not real Zoe. She never has been,” David tried to grab my hand but I wouldn’t let him, taking it back as if he were on fire. “And neither is your image of Julian.” I felt my heart hurt. I had expected them to claim Fiona wasn’t real but to insist that Julian wasn’t real was outrageous. I mean, I had talked to him.
“You’re lying. You’re just playing another joke on me, ha-ha.” I watched David for facial expressions, trying to find some evidence of a joke being played. A really bad joke, but one nonetheless.
“Zoe,” Daniel said, grabbing my hand. “The doctor said hallucinations were a side effect of the tumor. They have only been a figment of your imagination.”
“But Julian was there the day I met you,” I said, watching Daniel’s eyes as they radiated with confusion, looking back and forth between me and David. “Remember? I hurt my knee that day and you picked me up from the therapist and we went back to Julian’s and you guys were in the kitchen and talking and we all made jokes and it was wonderful!” I was talking faster than I should have, trying to put pieces together but realizing that not even I could remember the details of that day.
“That’s not what happened,” Daniel said, laying his hand on my shoulder. Worry lines on his forehead being formed by the millisecond. “You bumped into me and you scraped your knees and I drove you to the therapist. But I didn’t pick you up from the therapist, I met you just as I was going up the stairs and we got to talking, you invited me in and I stayed out of courtesy.” I tried to process what he was saying; shaking my head because of what this stupid tumor was doing to me. “We’re not saying Julian is dead, we’re just saying your recent memories of him aren’t real. He moved back in with his parents when Keira disappeared.
“Remember when we were little Zo?” David said, seating himself beside me on the bench, looking at me. “You, me, and Keira each had our alter egos. People we wished we could be. Fiona was Keira’s. That’s probably why you started seeing Fiona after Keira disappeared.” Tears started to roll down my cheeks, my make up becoming ruined. Their words were making sense and at the same time they didn’t. If my recent memories of them weren’t real, how much of the past months haven’t been either?
“They’re a side effect of your tumor,” Daniel said, rubbing the spot between my thumb and index finger. “I’m sorry.” I sat there, looking straight ahead at the newly renovated shed, wishing I could be just as beautifully made, but secretly knowing I was just like the shed I’d be screwed in; broken and rundown.
“How am I supposed to tell mom and dad that their daughter is broken?” I said. Letting the words linger in the air, seeing an image of Fi on the other bench, mouthing the words I’m sorry.
I was sorry too.
Twenty days before
Telling mom and dad wasn’t at all like I had expected, for once nobody cried, instead there was a whole lot of yelling. I told them the day after the party when we were cleaning, expecting them to be in somewhat of a good mood but was instead met with hostility over the fact that I had 1) fainted in the first place and 2) why I hadn’t told them immediately after I found out and 3) that they were demanding to come with me at my next appointment. “I don’t care if you’re eighteen or eighty,” my mom started saying, “you’re still my daughter, and I want to be in the loop about everything.” I understood where they came from but it didn’t make the ordeal any less painful, also understood that I would never keep them in the loop about everything. I doubt they’d be pleased to know that their daughter is crazy, but I guess they already knew somehow since they’re been paying for my psychiatrist since I was fifteen.
My knees start to bob up and down uncontrollably as I sit in the office with my entire family, awaiting the news on what kind of tumor was encased in my brain. My mom held my hand as the doctor started to introduce my parents to previous information I had heard. Her grasp on my hand felt unfamiliar, almost motherly. My father was composed but I could see his worry lines growing and the gray hairs on his head, I almost wished I hadn’t told them in the first place.
“There are good news and there are bad news,” the doctor started saying, his hands once again intertwined and on top of the table, his back pin straight and eyes locked moving from family member to family member. “The MRI showed that, yes, the tumor is cancerous, but the tumor is also benign which means that Zoe is not terminal.” Three out of family members gave out sighs of relief, I was still waiting for the bomb to drop, the bomb always dropped no matter what anyone said. “The tumor is operable, which means we can remove it. However, the tumor is located near the optic nerve, which means you could lose your vision.” I stopped listening after that, knowing very well that I wouldn’t be allowed to even consider not having the surgery, my parents rather having my vision compromised than my existence. “Zoe, are you on board with the surgery?” I was snapped back into reality by the doctor, eight eyes starting directly at me as I shook my head no and my parents eyes glaring at me with anger.
“We’ll get back to you. I think Zoe needs to think it over,” my dad said to the doctor. We all got up and went to the car, trying not to yell at one another, but I could feel my mother’s eyes jarring at me through the rearview announcing that we were going to talk as soon as we got home.
As soon as I got out of the car I slammed the door to my bedroom, hiding myself underneath the covers, trying to seem off limits to my mom who came barging in. “Zoe, you are having that surgery!” she exclaimed as she walked in and shut the door behind her, taking a seat on the corner of my bed, me still hiding underneath the sheets. “Zoe, look at me. You’re not five anymore.” I peered out from underneath the sheets, looking at my battered mother with her hollow cheeks and bags underneath her eyes, her hands trembling slightly as she uncovered me. “Why don’t you want to have the surgery?” she said, her voice soft and sympathetic, she seemed so humane when she wasn’t yelling at me.
“Mom-,” I said before being cut off.
“You never call me mom anymore, just the usual mother.”
“I know. I guess the prospect of dying does that to you huh?”
“Don’t joke Zoe,” she said, the edge I knew so well returning.
“I’m sorry,” I said, coughing as I tried to come up with the words to make her understand. “I know, I should want to have the surgery but I can’t. I love to read mom, okay?”
“I know Zoe but that’s no reason to no-”
“Let me finish mom,” I said. She nodded, awaiting the rest of what I had to say. “I love to read so much it hurts mom. I love words and the endless possibilities they have. Reading is the one thing in my life I have that is a constant. I’m a prisoner inside my own head mom; I have been ever since I got sick, before this stupid tumor, before Keira disappeared. Reading is the only thing I have that makes me feel better about myself. And if I go blind… I know you can feel the words but I don’t think I’d be able to handle that. I want to see the words and then feel them.”
She sat there, not saying a word, just flattening the bed sheet, and trying to get specks of dirt off the bed, flicking them individually. “Zoe, I hear you. But I need you to do the surgery. I can’t lose my only daughter, and that’s final. You’re eighteen, but I can still override you on this. I’m sorry but I need you more than you need reading.” She got up and left the room, gently closing the door right before I screamed into my pillow as I realized my one true love might be taken away from me very soon.
Seventeen days before
The surgery was scheduled to happen in fifteen days, which meant I had fifteen days to live my life before potentially losing all vision. As I ate breakfast and read my latest novel, one about a girl and a boy in Paris, the bell rung and I yelled for someone to get it but nobody did. I groaned in annoyance, wondering why we were all living here if nobody was going to open the front door.
“Hey,” Daniel said as I opened the door, spoon still in my mouth from eating my cereal.
“Hey back,” I said as I instantly took it out, suddenly very aware of the fact that I was barely wearing anything underneath my satin robe. “You coming by to see David or?” I asked, trying to ease the tension that had been between us since forever.
“Just to see you. See how you were doing. If you wanted to hang out,” he said, his hands deep in his pockets, head low as she spoke to me.
“I’m gonna take you up on that offer, just let me get dressed,” I said. He nodded and I invited him in, placing him at the kitchen table and my novel, telling him to make coffee or whatever else he wanted. I put on a tropical jumpsuit which snugly hugged my waist, enhancing the few curves I had, and did some subtle make up, ready to head downstairs before being stopped by David in the hallway.
“Where you headed, lil sis?” he said, a smirk on his face.
“Out, with Daniel.” I felt my cheeks blush as I said that; hoping David wouldn’t catch on to my rosy cheeks.
“Oh? Go slow lil sis,” he said as he nudged my shoulder lightly, the grin on his face growing by the nanosecond.
I shook my head at David. “You know those moments in movies where you go ‘no, don’t do that!’ to the main guy and girl?”
“Well that’s what my brain is telling me now. It’s telling me not to like him because it’s not right.”
Because I just broke up with the love of my life. Because I could go blind. Because I’m on medication. Because I’m a rollercoaster ride and not the good kind. Because I can’t make up my mind about who I like right now. Because just a couple of days ago I thought I sleep with my dead best friend’s alter ego.”
His eyes widened as I said that last part. “We are going to talk about that last part. But what if he’s the love of your life?”
“I don’t want to find out. I never want to experience what I felt right after Tyler and I broke up. I thought I was going to die after that. It hurt more than I could handle.”
“I get that Zo, trust me I do. But you see, you’re still here. Even after Tyler. And I’m betting you, that you didn’t even think about Tyler until now.”
He was right but I wasn’t going to let him win. “I’ve had the tumor to think about, you know, that thing inside my brain?”
He chuckled, his sly face not being removed from the vicinity. “You can say that the tumor is the only reason. But you’ve had Daniel on your mind way before that.”
“I thought most brothers told guys to stay away from their sister, not encourage them to be with them?”
He walked away, only flashing his famous smile at me before closing the door to his room and saying, “If you get a boyfriend then you won’t bug me about Isabelle!”
As I walked downstairs, taking each step slowly, I thought about David and what he had said. It had been true; Daniel had been on my mind far more than he should have. He had somehow become the person I went to when things got rough, and whether or not I was ready to admit that, he was still occupying more time in my head than Tyler had these past couple of weeks.
I ran into dad as I took my steps downward. “Hey kiddo, I see you’re going out so I’ll keep it short: we’re not moving.” I froze, almost missing the next step of the stairs. “You can hug me now,” dad said, a huge smile on his face. I hugged dad hard, grateful that we were staying but almost afraid to ask why, was it because of the tumor? “It’s not because of tumor honey,” dad said, reading my thoughts. “You kids haven’t had it easy, maybe you need this. We’re not strapped for cash, your mom can take early retirement and stay at home whilst I go to wo-” I couldn’t listen to my dad anymore, as sweet as he was to not have our entire family uprooted and trying to explain it to me, I just couldn’t keep the joy inside me. I hugged my dad, both of us standing there in complete silence, feeling a sense of family in this house for the first time sine who knew how long.
“Thank you daddy,” I said as I kissed him on the cheek, the smile on his face growing even bigger. I went downstairs and found Daniel reading my novel, coffee in hand, looking quite dashing. I stood there, capturing the moment and hoping that if my vision were to be lost in fifteen days, that I am able to picture this moment forever.
“Enjoying the view?” Daniel said, barely looking up from the book.
“Maybe,” I replied back coyly.
“Enjoying. Present progressive. Something happening right at this moment.”
“You’re mocking my love for grammar, but it’s true,” I said, grabbing the book out of his hands. “Come on, let’s go.”
“It was about three months ago that I graduated. A week of happiness, celebration, and euphoria ended as soon as it began. All the happiness had been turned into sadness, the laughter into tears, and classmates into a distant memory. I never thought it’d be like that, but it was.” I said, stopping to take a sip of my frappuccino. “You’d think that graduation would mean liberation; but that’s not true. In between the first day of summer and last day of summer awaits acceptance letters. And in between waiting for acceptance letters awaits rejection emails from job companies. And in between those stages you find out you have a tumor, and that your best friend is a symptom of that tumor.” We had gone to the beach, enjoying the last day of actual heat before the rainstorm was supposed to hit. There were kids going around, their mothers in near sight, telling them not to go too close to the water. Watching them made me nostalgic, reminding me of my own childhood days here, running around aimlessly, and laughing at absolutely nothing.
“David told me you initially didn’t want to have the surgery, why is that? I mean, it could save your life,” Daniel said, taking a sip of his green tea. His hair flying in the direction of the wind, making him look all the more appealing.
I shook my head. “It could save my life, but it could also ruin it. I could lose my vision. But what really stops me from wanting it? Is not seeing Fi anymore.” I realized how stupid it sounded, that I didn’t want to remove the tumor just because my imaginary friend would disappear. “She’s no Keira, and I know that, but just having her… I don’t know. I don’t want to lose another friend.” I looked out at the ocean, thinking about the crashing waves once again, wondering about the battle of eating before being eaten, and hoping to whoever the hell was up there that the never ending feeling of always being alone and lonely wouldn’t eat me up.
Twelve days before
“I think I have to let you go,” I said, hoping the words wouldn’t hurt her.
“I know,” Fi replied back, giving my hand a little squeeze. I still didn’t understand how she could be a figment of my imagination and still feel so real. I looked at her and kissed her, trying to capture this feeling of bliss. “You’re not making it any easier.”
“I know,” I smiled at her, wondering if I’d ever feel like this again.
We were at the cemetery in front of Keira’s grave laying a single white rose on her headstone. I was saying goodbye to not only one person but two, hoping that letting them go would ease the transition from hurting to healing, no longer trying to pick at the ever building scab which is my heart.
“You can come back you know. Just not in the form of a tumor,” I said as I let some tears shed. Fi looked so beautiful, wearing a neat black lace dress with a belt at the waist, hair let down in beautiful waves.
“I’ll try not to,” she laughed, removing a stand of hair from my face, the heat between us growing as I tried not to kiss her again, completely aware that I’d only be making out with a gust of air. “Bye Zoe, see you soon.”
“Bye Fi,” she kissed me on the cheek before walking through the woods, leaving nothing but the small, tingling feeling in my body from having her in my presence, and the awful after shock of realizing I would no longer see her again after the craniotomy.
I turned to Keira’s headstone, ready to leave but realizing I couldn’t do just that before leaving her another note. I took a notebook out of my bag and started writing.
I know that the world is not a wish-granting factory. I know that two plus two is four. I also know that you aren’t here. What I don’t know is why and it really would’ve been nice if you had been able to tell me, maybe then I wouldn’t go crazy wondering about the ten different scenarios you have lived through since leaving that day.
I wanted to write a letter saying goodbye but I don’t know if I can. Give me a sign will you; tell the universe to give the police a lead in your case? I’d really like to yell at you in person but I guess that’s not possible since you’re gone. Well, maybe I can try here at least, hoping you’ll be able to intonate words that need some extra emphasis.
You left. You left and you didn’t say goodbye. And you were supposed to do that. Or wait, you weren’t supposed to leave at all. I hate you; I hate you so much I hate myself, because I miss you so much that my heart hurts whenever I see you. And you do realize that I am blaming my hallucination of your alter ego Fiona on you, right? Had you not gone away, I probably wouldn’t be known as the crazy girl.
But I probably wouldn’t have found out I had a tumor either. Or met Daniel. Or made up with David this summer (he’s with Isabelle now, don’t you dare ruin them with your unearthly powers up there (or is it down there? You weren’t the best person, you know)). So maybe I do have to thank you for going away and leaving me to be my own person. For leaving me to experience the world on my own rather than being your sidekick in your world. Thanks, I guess.
I’m sad and I’m confused about everything. I wish you were here so I could bounce it off you but nope, not here. I just… I don’t know Keira, why’d you have to leave? Why’d you have to get yourself killed? It’s not fair. It’s not fair to the people around you, especially not me. I needed you and you just left.
Anyways, I’m having surgery in ten days, I just wanted to say goodbye to you. I’ll try to not think about you as much, but who the hell am I kidding? You’re always in the back of my mind, giving me tips about everything.
I think I became my own person this summer, I want to celebrate that somehow, I don’t know how though, hoping you will send some vibes in my dreams. Or send me a cute guy or girl at university, that starts in twelve days but I might have to miss orientation day depending on whether or not I have my vision. I’ll probably have to get a wig or something as well, since the doctors are going to shave my head for the surgery – not looking forward to that.
I’m trying to end this letter but it feels difficult, you know? Let me know what you think, I can be reached through hallucinations for the next couple of days.
I ripped the page out of my notebook, making sure to fold the page into several squares before finally placing it next to the rose, hoping this secret won’t be blown away by the wind.
Five days before
“You ready for this?” Daniel asked, looking in the other direction.
“No. But I need to do this,” I said, holding onto Daniel’s hand, awaiting the incoming pain. “You can look at me you know, I’m not naked,” I teased.
He turned around to face me, smiling. “Should I tell him to start?”
“Do it.” He waved over the tattoo artists, telling him the exact design as I lay on my side, picturing the three dots that would be resting on my hip in only a matter of minutes.
If I lost my vision, this was the only picture I wanted imprinted, the three dots, and the story they told.
The three dots were everything and they were nothing.
They were Keira, Fiona, and I.
They were David, Daniel, and Isabelle.
They were the end and the beginning of the story.
Two days before
I looked at myself in the mirror, my fragile body encased in an off-white hospital gown that almost stopped at my feet. I was tired, hungry, and scared. The doctor came by, prepping me for surgery and doing the run through, ensuring me that there was an eighty-five percent success rate and that I should go in with a positive attitude. I smiled at his attempt, wondering if he was one of those rare doctors who actually cared about their patients.
Mom and dad came by, hassling all the nurses about proper care and all my allergies, making sure to give them my most up to date weight so I wouldn’t die of an overdoes or allergic reaction to anesthesia.
David brought Isabelle and they read from The Catcher in the Rye before I was hauled, making sure to read the passage where Holden is on a cliff, wishing he could be a catcher in the rye, saving all those children from an imminent death.
Daniel came by, handing me a temporary tattoo that read Don’t ask why I’m bald in a horrible font that I could stick on my head after the surgery. The thought made me laugh and I almost looked forward to wearing it proudly. I kissed him on the cheek before the neurosurgeon and oncologist rolled me into the operating room.
The operating room was nothing like it was on Grey’s Anatomy. It was smaller than they made it out to be and there was no gallery where people could watch, only a couple of nurses and surgeons, all intent on removing the mass of evil growing inside my head.
The last thing I saw before the anesthesia kicked in was Fi’s face behind the mask of the nurse telling me that it would be all right.
I hoped to whoever was listening that she wasn’t lying.
One day before
I couldn’t see.
In the near distance I heard voices, trying to place the voice to the face, going through my internal photo gallery but coming to little success.
I couldn’t see.
I couldn’t even see the damn photos of the ones I loved most.
I heard my mom yell at the doctor, my dad praying, and David not saying a word, only feeling his quivering lips as he kissed my forehead, whispering “I’m so sorry.” I don’t know if there was anyone else in the room, if they were then they were silent, trying not to disrupt my grieving family.
The doctor came in, asking me what I could and could not see. How much clearer can you get than saying “I can’t see shit”? He said this could happen, that in a couple of days I could regain my vision.
Could. Modal verb. Expresses possibility.
My parents weren’t convinced, my mother’s voice growing hysterical as she kept pleading for answers from a God she could not see, my father doing the same but in a lower and more composed word.
I couldn’t see anything, but I could see everything.
The day of
I opened my eyes and saw light. I saw how the walls were not white but rather a creamy shade of marshmallow. I saw how the walls reflected the light coming from outside, the rays of sunshine seeping through the ugly curtains with some strange birds on them. I saw my sleeping brother in the corner, his hair ruffled and his shirt inside out. I took everything in, enjoying the beauty I could see, even the ugly stickers on the table next to me.
I turned my gaze to the hallway, watching people walk by, everyone in a hurry to get to someone. I pinched my arm, hoping that this wasn’t a dream and that I could actually see. The pain that emerged from the pinch was real, not something I had made up.
I felt my bald head, feeling the tiny scar going across my head, feeling each individual bump. I was going to be the new girl with the bald head and a sticker on it. I was going to start university, and if I could get checked out soon I could probably still make it to the last few hours of orientation day.
“Hey,” a voice said, one I didn’t quite recognize until I looked to my left.
It was Keira.
Keira was in the doorway.
I pinched my arm in panic, hoping a pain wouldn’t emerge, closed my eyes, hoping it was just a bad dream.
I opened my eyes.
A pain shot through my arm.
Keira was still there.