Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.
“So. . .are you ready to meet them?” Ceci asked while leaning on the wall with a smile on her face and her arms crossed.
I turned around from the mirror where I was tying up my hair with one of the hugest smiles on my own, excited face and looked at her with huge eyes. “Ready? It’s been three months since I’ve met them face to face. Any of them! I’m more than ready! I can’t wait!” I rambled on and on, getting on my feet and pacing around like every time I did when I was too excited. “Mom’s gonna wear blue. A hundred percent. And dad?” I thought it over for a second. “Yellow? Green? Something like that. And the boys? Well, they’re unpredictable. I’m not even gonna try to guess what they wear, you know? Oh my god, Ceci. I have this weird feeling in my stomach. Ugh, I can’t wait. I can’t wait. I can’t wait. This is all I’ve been thinking about for three days. Three days!” I shook my head in disbelief.
To be very honest, I half- expected her to stop me midway through my absolutely nonsensical rambling, but surprisingly that didn’t quite happen. When I turned around to comment on that, my heart completely broke at what I saw.
My excited demeanor started to fade away as I stared at Ceci until all that was left was a fixed shocked expression. She still had the smile on her face, but it seemed too forced. On top of that, she looked like she was going to cry any second. I knew that face. It’s like putting on a mask that’s slipping away. A mask that’s breaking right through your own fingers. A mask that hides you.
Wordlessly, I took three large steps to her and gave her a tight hug.
She completely broke as soon as I wrapped my arms around her and the tears started flowing out like a waterfall. “You’re so lucky, Sam. You’re so lucky,” she laughs in between her sobs. “I can’t even remember the last time my parents came to visit me. They’re always away, you know? Always out on business. Probably trying to avoid the daughter they were unfortunate to have--”
“Don’t think about it like that. You know that’s not true. They love you. I love you--”
“No. No one does.”
“Are you crazy?! What are you talking about? Everyone loves you, Ceci! You’re the prettiest, most talented and not to mention, one of the most crazily, and amazingly awesome people out there! And I’m pretty sure that deep down you know that what I’m saying is right,” my voice softened down as I stared right into her eyes. “You were my first and best friend the second I stepped in here and I don’t regret that because Ceci you are amazing. And don’t you forget that.”
She tightened her hold on me as her tears dripped down one by one right across her face. I could feel her wet tears soaking right through my shirt and right onto my shoulder, but I couldn’t care less about it. Right now, my friend needs me and I am going to be there for her. The feeling of someone else crying and my absolute helplessness to do anything once again shook me to the core and left me feeling like throwing up.
I took deep breaths in. This was for her. I’m helping her. Don’t break down, Sam. It’s her who needs help right now. She needs your support. Stop being such a baby. No, Sam. Don’t. Please. I’m begging you. Please. Don’t make me seem weak again. Please. She needs your help right now. She’s trusting you. Please, Sam. Don’t cry. Stay strong.
Come on, Sam.
Do this for her. What have you done for anyone? You’ve only ever exacerbated things. Do this for her. Please, Sam.
And as I scolded myself for even having to tell myself that I wasn’t supposed to cry, Ceci’s tears slowly came to a stop and soon enough, all that was left were the sounds of hiccups. She hastily wiped her tears. “God, I’m such a bad friend. I’m supposed to be happy for you and here I am-- crying,” she shook her head and moved away from me, avoiding eye contact.
“Stop,” I told her in a firm voice. “Quit demeaning yourself and stop being pejorative. It’s okay. We’re friends, right? You’re supposed to let friends help you. God, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know that it was this bad. I wouldn’t have--”
“Oh, shut up,” she wiped her tears away and took a deep breath. “Look, Sam. I’m sorry this happened. Okay? I wasn’t supposed to cry--”
“No, Sam. Let me finish,” she pulled me away from her hug so that we were no longer hugging each other and sitting face to face instead. “It’s alright, I promise. I’m alright. Now go and have fun.”
“You’re going to enjoy. Am I clear or am I clear?”
“I don’t really have an option,” I grumbled.
She nodded sympathetically and gave me an awkward pat on the head which I swatted away.
“I want to tell you a secret,” I randomly told her out of nowhere.
Her ears stood up as she listened to me intently.
“Promise me you won’t laugh?” I furrowed my eyebrows and looked at her accusingly. She shooked her head vigorously and told me to hurry up. “I really, really, really liked cat food when I was younger.”
“What the-- cat food?” Her eyebrow rose up in question.
Soon enough, her lips quirked up and in no time she was laughing hysterically. “Cat food?” she repeated and fell back into her world of laughter. My arms crossed over my chest defensively. “Where the hell did that come from? Cat food! Oh my lord!”
“Stop!” I exclaimed with a little bit of teasing in my tone. “You promised you wouldn’t laugh!”
“Not my fault! Really? Where did cat food even come from?! And besides you liked-- no, loved it?!” Her expression turned into those of disgust. “Ew, Sam. Ew. Yuck. Disgusting.”
“I don’t know where it came from, okay? It just did. You were telling me your deepest, darkest secrets and I wasn’t sure I could tell you some things yet so I told you the next best thing. . . and I said liked! Don’t convert it to something else. And besides, mom is coming over. She’s probably going to be spilling everything if she meets you.”
“Dear, Sam. You told me that you really, really, really liked cat food when you were younger. Technically three really’s before the word liked has the same meaning as loved. Although, it’s not really the same when you’re talking about human love. But it’s the same when you’re talking about,” she tried to stifle a laugh but failed miserably, ”cat food.”
“You promised me you wouldn’t laugh!” I blamed.
“Oh, darling. Promises are meant to be broken,” she winked.
The second she said those words, panic filled me in and I cursed myself. I cursed myself for being so weak. For being scared of everything. These were such trivial matters which I always made into a big deal. I effortlessly put on the face that showed that everything was alright when in reality nothing was and struggled to calm myself. My hands shook slightly and I tried to cover my hands the hardest I could.
While Ceci was still laughing, I was having a mini anxiety attack.
“I’m going to go the washroom. To freshen up one last time before they come in, okay?” I told her as quickly as I could in an attempt to run away without being noticed in this state. I didn’t even wait for her reply, but I did try to walk away as though nothing happened. I’d never liked it when people worried over me. It made me seem too important. Too much unnecessary attention. I’ve never liked that. Ever.
I locked the bathroom door the second I stepped foot into it. My back slid against the wooden door and I held my head in my hands as I waited for my hands to stop shaking. My throat was closing up and my head was swaying side to side in a dizzying manner. To anyone in front of me, I would have almost seemed like a psychotic patient who had run away from the mental hospital.
In front of me, all that could be seen were black and white dots. It felt like someone was choking me and depriving me of all the air I needed. My hands flew up to my throat as I tried to pull their hands away. It hurt. So much.
And it hurt so much, that the tears didn’t even run away. I tried to breathe in and take in air, but there was an invisible force that restricted me from doing so. My body was getting tired as I desperately gasped for air. The world had started spinning and each of my limbs seemed to be carrying a weight of their own. Everything seemed so heavy.
And when I couldn’t carry myself anymore, my body fell down sideways from my sitting position so that my cheeks were pressed against the white, cold, and empty floor.
All the therapists’ words of counting to ten during a panic attack washed right over my head and I found myself unable to do something as simple as to start off counting. I couldn’t even bring the first number to my head because there seemed to be something else consuming my mind.
The words still rang through my head. His words still rang through my head.
“Promises are meant to be broken, Sam...”
“Promises are meant to be broken, Sam...”
“Promises are meant to be broken, Sam...”
And they repeated themselves over and over again. Torturing me. Killing me. In that same tone he used. That same defeated, almost dead tone.
I’d asked him why he broke his promise. Why he told me everything was fine when it obviously wasn’t. Why he hid things from me. Why he didn’t let me help him when I could.
And he replied with, “Promises are meant to be broken, Sam.”
It took all my effort, but I forced my trembling hand to move right above the sink after pushing myself there. I shakily opened the tap using all the strength that was left in me and slowly brought my hands that were filled with water to my face. The water slapped me right out of my conscience and brought me back to life.
I could finally breathe again.
I slammed the water tap shut and fell back down to the floor, taking long breaths to restore all the oxygen that had rid itself of me. When my breathing had turned back to normal and I could finally think clearly again, I pushed myself up and stared at myself long and hard in the mirror.
Forcing an unshed tear to stay behind, I stared at the all too familiar stranger that was staring right back at me through the mirror and whispered, “What have you done to me?”
“Are you there? Mom? Dad? Anyone? Is anyone even on the phone? Hello? Hello? Hello?! Why am I even talking to myself? Why would you answer the phone if you didn’t want to talk?! What has my life become for god’s sakes! Besides, if you’re listening to me, this really isn’t the day to be having one of your ‘silent days.’ Mom! Dad! Someone! Xavier! Fred! Tony! SOMEONE!” I yelled into the phone in frustration.
“Oh, hi, sweetie! Sorry. We were just checking into the hotel. Two minutes, I’ll call you back. I promise.”
I looked at Ceci frustratedly who was still laughing at me. “They’re so annoying!” I complained, throwing my hands up in the hair.
Five agonizing minutes later, I took it upon myself to give them another call. They told me two minutes. Two freaking minutes. Obviously, someone else doesn’t like to keep their promises too. I angrily dialed her number and waited impatiently with my foot tapping the floor rapidly for any sounds of life.
When the phone had finally been picked up, I didn’t waste a minute to scream it into the phone, “Hello? Hello? Oh, for the love of God! Answer, someone!”
“Sam. . . I-- uh. You know what, Sam?! This is all your fault! Who told you to stupidly decide to bring these monkeys along as well. They’re not tamed. They don’t even know how to behave! Now, look what they’ve done! The second I got off the phone with you, Tony just had to drop the hotel’s ‘most expensive and beautifully decorated’ vase,” she mimicked. “We’ve been fighting with the hotel manager for almost a minute now! At six something in the morning that too! You know how I am with mornings! This is just too early for all this nonsense. Your dad doesn’t even know how to argue properly! At this rate, we’re probably going to be bankrupt before we’re out of here,” she prattled. “Looks like I’m going to have to do something. I’ll talk to you later. I’ve got to handle this. No one can do anything by themselves! Noooo, they all need Emily to take care of everything! Ugh, I’m off.”
“Mom--” But she didn’t even give me enough time to utter a single word before the line went dead. I took in a deep and enraged breath. Stupid, stupid Tony. Everyone would be on their way to come here if it weren’t for him breaking that stupid vase. Ugh. Now I’m going to have to wait extra for no reason.
And do you want to know the problem?
I just can’t wait.
Granted, it was still six thirty in the morning. But I had classes to attend to in a few minutes and I wouldn’t be able to meet them for the whole day if it weren’t for now. Or maybe I can. I don’t know! Dad said if they are a bit late, they’d talk to the management office to let me out early and excuse me for a day. But I’d never been in this situation before, so I wasn’t too sure about the rules and whether they’d allow me to do that.
Waiting is just so frustrating.
Unfortunately for me, I had received no other calls from mom and something told me that it wouldn’t end well if I even tried to call her. She wasn’t a “morning” person, after all.
“We can’t wait for them any longer. It’s not like they’ll magically appear anyway. They told us that they were still in the hotel, handling some sort of a problem ten minutes ago. It’s going to take them fifteen here to reach here and let’s add another five to ten minutes to solve that problem. If we’re gonna wait a minute longer, we’re going to be extremely late. My suggestion is that we go now and see what happens later, alright?”
I sighed, taking in her words and then nodded. She was right. There was no use of pointless waiting. Besides, we’d always be in the class by now. We are getting late. “Yeah. Grab your books and the keys and let’s go. Or wait. . ? You’ve got cheerleading practice?”
She nodded in response.
“Alright, then pass me the keys. I’ll come in earlier than you will anyway and if by any chance that doesn’t happen-- just come by and take it from me? Okay?”
A silent thumbs up later, we grabbed our needed items and began our fast-paced/running kind of walk, hoping to make it in before the clock struck the time of lateness.
“Quicker, Ceci,” I huffed, sort of out of breath. Heavy books sure do take a toll on you.
“I am quick! Maybe if you wouldn’t be the coach of the football team and wouldn’t be at least two or three inches taller than me, I would have a better chance on striding right past you. But with the looks of it, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon, is it?” she sent a sarcastic and fake smile towards my direction.
“I’m carrying all your books in the hopes of you jogging faster, you stupid idiot! Just try to go a little faster at least!” I cried as a book almost slipped out of my grasp. I still wonder whether I am the only one who’s heart completely drops down to the floor if something like that happens.
She clicked her teeth in annoyance. “Well, you are kind of the reason of our lateness right now, Sam.”
I turned my head towards her so quickly that I could have heard a crack in my neck. “Oh, really?” I raised my eyebrows as if it were new information. “What ever happened to ‘let’s wait for a few minutes, Sam. They must be coming’ right before we both got some sense and walked out?”
“Oh, shush. Let’s just pray we make it.”
I sighed and left it at that. Both our exhaustion and frustration from the day’s events were being shown as we bickered on the silliest of things when we could be reciting the notes for the test coming up later on today instead. At least, that would have been comparatively beneficial.
When we threw open the door to the classroom, all eyes fell upon our two sweaty and disheveled figures. We both hung our heads in shame as the professor came in front of us.
“And why are you two ladies late, may I know?” he scrutinized our state.
“Um. . .we were actually waiting for a call from the office department. My parents are coming in to talk to the school about some important matters and we were told that we would be called upon later on. However, I believe that either my parents are late or the department has forgotten to inform me, yet. Therefore, we got. . .uh. . . a little late,” I blurted out, in hopes of not getting into trouble. I didn’t want the reason for my parents’ visit to turn into expulsion matters.
He narrowed his eyes at me to confirm my story and when I didn’t flinch or give him any signs of lying, he turned to Ceci. “And you? Why are you late?”
I immediately rushed to my friend’s rescue. “She was with me. My parents have requested both our presence as the matter concerns her as well.” My lie came out fluent and well and I was beyond relieved that it came out the way I wanted it to.
He looked at me, unimpressed. “Does she not have a mouth? Can she not speak for herself?” he tilted his head in annoyance. A few snickers and laughs were sounded from all four corners of the room and I found myself going to red and dropping my gaze to the floor in a jiffy. He turned his head back to Ceci. “So, yes, you. What is your story? Can you explain it to me please?” he gave me a sharp look and I gulped.
“Uh. . .uh. . .yes. As Samantha said here, I am concerned in the matter involving Sam’s parents and I was waiting for the call along with her.”
He examined her face the same way he did mine and then jerked his head back in a signal to get us to get back to our seats. “No more lateness in my classroom, am I understood?” he sneered.
We both nodded our heads vigorously and almost ran back to our seats-- however, in a more graceful way than we did when we came to class. I think we realized how many students were staring at us and waiting for our absolute downfall.
Classes passed by relatively faster than the usual thereafter. I was in between my Business class which was my last class of the day when I was called out and ushered to the small office my parents were seated in. My heart swelled up with joy and the smile on my face grew ten times wider at the sight of them. Obviously, they had the same reaction as the both of them held their arms out and pulled me for a hug.
There was a guy sitting behind the desk professionally and patiently waiting for us to finish our greeting. “Please have a seat, Ms. Anderson,” he gestured to one of the unoccupied seats that were right beside my parents’ seats. Obediently, I nodded my head and sat down.
“So, as I was telling Mr. and Mrs. Anderson here just before the time you walked in,” he started, “Samantha has been given permission for a maximum of two hours during weekdays. There is only one condition and that is for you to only leave after classes are over and completely done with. Timings after five and before nine are preferred from our side. Nine P.M. is going to be the deadline and you have to be back by then, unfortunately.” He gave us a small, apologetical smile.
However, I was so relieved. This truly was more than I could have asked for. The fact that they were being so lenient with the timings was overwhelming. “Thank you,” both my parents and I gushed out. “Thank you so much.”
But he had something else to say as he continued in his same business-like and formal tone. “Also, the school has respected your wishes of keeping the fact that you go to a therapist unknown. I will be printing you out a permission letter before you walk out these doors by which there shouldn’t any questions or complications on your short leave every therapy session you’ve got.”
My mom and dad rose up from their chairs in gratitude and shook the hands of the guy behind the desk in glee. “Thank you so much, sir. This really means a lot to us,” my dad told him to which he shook his head and told us not to worry about it.
Before we left, he handed me a slip and told me to take great care of it as this was my pass out. He also told me that if anything was to go wrong with it, I was to report to him immediately and that he’d print it out. He was an amazingly nice person to deal with.
Once we were done with our ‘thank you’s” and all, my parents took me out to the car. “Okay, then, kiddo. Let me explain what is going to happen in the following hour. We’re going to take you to the therapist’s office, but we’re going to have a lot of paperwork and signatures to take care of. We want you to be there with us so you can get familiar with the place whatsoever. Lucky enough for you, we made sure to get you the closest therapist from here. It’d only take a walk of ten to fifteen minutes to reach up there. However, we’re going to be taking the car at the moment because we’ve got to pick up those idiots you call friends from the hotel after we’re done at the therapists’. Sound clear?”
I took in the new information and nodded my head slowly. My hands were a bit clammy and my insides had started shaking up, but I pulled myself up for the sake of mom and dad.
“Perfect,” he said and then turned to mom. “Are we all ready to go?”
“Let’s hit the road,” she smiled.
It felt like we’d just crossed the street with the car when we were told to get out of the car. I tilted my head to have a closer look at the place I’d be going for a minimum of a month now. Mom took my hand in hers for assurance and helped me inside.
By now, I was surprised mom didn’t let go of my hand in disgust. They were so sweaty that one would think that I washed my hands prior to coming here. I took deep breaths in an attempt to calm myself down but all I could remember was those exact beige walls which compelled me to completely break down.
Reliving every single detail in the most horrifying and deathly period in my life took so much energy than I could give credit for. Every word that came out of my mouth was like poison to my soul. It burned right through my skin and gave me those scars I could never erase from existence.
I scanned the room. There was a bored lady at a counter right outside the entrance. As she continued to chew on her gum, we walked to her.
She plastered a fake smile on her face at the sight of us and asked those words she probably was forced to say, “Hey, how can I help you?”
Dad immediately spoke up.“Uh. . .I’m not too sure who I talked to on the phone besides Mrs. Harrison, but I think it was you. It was about my daughter, Sam? For the therapy lessons?”
“Ah, yes. . .” she nodded her head in remembrance and stuck her head in her desktop. “What was her name again?”
She nodded her head as she checked something on her computer. “Yes, I have it here. I printed out the forms you need to sign in earlier on,” she said as she pulled out a file with a bundle of papers in. “Have you paid already?”
“Yes,” he nodded. “Online.”
She typed something into her keyboard make rapid clicking noises and the clicked her mouse around for a few seconds until she came up with something. “Very well,” she smiled. “I agree those files look like they’re humongous but they should take a maximum of fifteen minutes. Mrs. Harrison should be here before you take your leave, so you can meet her too on your way out.”
We all nodded in understanding and thanked her. Mom and Dad took in the files and started filling it together while I just took a seat and stared at the place. There were only a few people here. A few officials walking around with more files in their hands and some patients who waited patiently.
There was a woman who seemed to be in her late forties and a man who seemed to be in his early thirties. There were a couple more people around that age group and then a teenage guy who stood out just like me amongst the crowd of comparatively older people. He seemed to be around fifteen.
His headphones were hung around his head and his head leaned back against the wall behind him for support. From the place I was sitting, it looked like he was fast asleep.
However, before I could analyze him any further, mom and dad came to me and took a seat on either side of me. “Mrs. Harrison should be here any minute now, so we’re going to wait for her before heading back to the hotel. Is that alright?” Mom confirmed with me.
I gave them a tight lipped smile in response.
A lady entered through the door and after she silently greeted the lady at the counter, she made her way to her office. It was clearly Ms. Harrison. Dad went to the counter again. “Hi, we need to talk to Mrs. Harrison real quick if that’s possible?”
“Sure, I’ll just inform her and then you guys can go in,” she told us and proceeded to pick the phone up and call Mrs. Harrison. It was only a brief call of confirmation which ended pretty quickly.
Soon, we were all heading towards her office. I took deep breaths in and fiddled nervously with my hands with every step I took. Shivers and chills ran down my spine and I found myself almost turning back and giving up. But it was mom’s hand that calmed me the most. The fact that she was there. It was enough of comfort for me.
“Hello,” Mrs. Harrison greeted as we entered through the door after knocking. “How are you today?” She had a pleasant smile on her face and she seemed really calm and collected.
“Good, thank you. And you?” Dad spoke almost too formally.
She let out a small laugh. “I’m really good as well. Please have a seat.”
Once we were settled down, she introduced herself in spite of us already knowing her name. “I’m Mrs. Harrison and I’m going to be your therapist from now on. I’m assuming you are Samantha Anderson?” she pointed a look straight towards me.
I initially gave her a slight nod but due to my nerves, I came out almost unnoticeable and therefore I was forced to speak. “Yes, I’m Samantha Anderson.”
“Perfect,” she smiled warmly. “So, let me make this short and simple since I don’t want to delay your wait any further. Sam’s got to come in two days every week for three months-- which is how much you’ve paid for-- and I’m going to try to help her as much as I can. Now, from what I’ve read on this file: getting through and out of a trauma like this isn’t the easiest task in the world but it isn’t impossible. We’ll go one step at a time and see how much we can cover.” Her words and eye contact were directed right at me.
“Alright,” I managed to let out.
“Great. I’ll see you tomorrow then. I want you here by seven thirty. Is that alright?”
I thought back to when I had my practice and then nodded. I ended practice at seven. It was perfect. I even had thirty minutes to freshen up after a tiring time.
“Yes, it’s fine. Thank you,” I finally smiled.
“No worries. So. . .tomorrow it is then?” she confirmed.
“Yes, I’ll be here.”
She bid her goodbyes to my parents and told them it was nice meeting them.
We were out in no time. Or at least-- I was out in no time. That place suffocated me.
“Final stage of team parents,” mom announced dramatically as he turned up the engine of the car. “Take Sam to the boys and bring them to her University.”
All my nervousness for tomorrow’s session flew right out of the window when I realized I was finally going to meet the boys. We’d never really gone this long without seeing each other, so I was missing them a lot.
Ten minutes later, we arrived at the hotel. Dad must have called them down to the reception to avoid wasting time since my practice started in only fifteen minutes. I was definitely going to late but it was worth it. Their backs were turned to me as they all did something on their phone. They were so engrossed into whatever it was that they were doing.
My face would have ripped off if my smile grew any bigger to be very honest. But just. . .seeing them there made everything in my life worth it. And it was at that minute that I realized just to what extent I did, in fact, miss them.
I ran towards them, laughing, and jumped on Xavier’s back. Xavier’s shout and curse caught not only the attention of the boys but of every single person in the reception. Everyone stared at us weirdly as Xavier finally turned around and saw who the crazy lunatic that jumped on his back was.
His once moody expression turned into that of joy and he picked me up by my knees and turned me around. I laughed and hit his shoulder to get him to stop. When he finally put me down-- Tony, Frederick, James, and all the other boys just climbed on top of me. I was lucky there was a couch right behind me or else I would have landed to practice with a concussion.
“Oh my god, you guys,” I said once they all got off me. “I missed you so much!”
“Aww, we know,” Xavier batted his eyelashes innocently.
“Oh, shut up. I missed everyone but you,” I joked.
He fake gasped. “How dare you?!”
I just stuck my tongue out at him.
Dad’s voice broke us out of our little banter. “Now, you guys can meet and hug and fight all you want later. Right now, we’ve got a practice to attend,” he turned to the boys and sent them a pointed look. “The reason we came here. Now buckle up and let’s go.”
They all cheered and grabbed their football kits. It was at that moment that I hit myself. How could I forget my kit? If we were going to finally show them how to play football, how was I going to do that without my kit?
Oh no. I’ll probably just borrow one of the guy’s (I’d like to insert a shudder here) sweaty, disgusting kit. I feel like puking just at the thought of it.
I removed all thoughts of the kit and just climbed into the car where everyone hurriedly ran off to. We were all very squished. Everyone was sitting on each other’s laps-- including me and the boys at the back of our seven seater car-- and our backs were arched due to our height and the rooftop of the car.
We were just about to leave and Dad had just made sure that everyone was settled down at the back when he brought something heavy and dropped it in my hands.
My jaw dropped open in shock and I stared at him wordlessly.
“You didn’t actually think I wouldn’t bring your kit, did you?”