Grey

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Chapter 1

I pull myself through the doorway of the kitchen, clutching a hot water bottle to my stomach while putting on the best ‘I’m really sick, I’m going to sleep early’ face I can master. My mother sits in her predictable armchair, sewing her predictable sweater that she’s been working on for around a week. My father is in the opposite chair, reading through a large book, not bothered nor interested that my mother is even in the room. They sit as far apart from each other as they can--avoiding human contact is essential to their strange way of life.

A life I have never cared for, nor missed when I decided one day to skip past the dramatics of the Bible and have fun instead.

I creep towards the staircase, hoping I’ve done the best I can. Usually, I don’t have to pretend I’m ill, I’ll just tell them that I’m studying at the library, which in some cases is true. In other cases, there’s more interesting places to be.

“Elizabeth.”

I scrunch my face up as my mother calls my name, I twirl back around, watching as she continues sewing, not bothering to lift her eyes to make eye contact. “Mhm?”

“Where are you going?”

I instinctively curve my spine, the words that roll off my tongue come out murmured and sickly. “Bed. I’m not feeling well.”

“Have you cleaned the kitchen?”

“I did half of it but-”

“So, it isn’t clean,” she says, still not looking at me. “What was the order I gave you after dinner?”

“To clean the kitchen,” I say.

“So, why did you only do half?”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” I say, angrier than I should, I can’t let it slip that I’m lying, I really need to get out tonight. “I feel dizzy. I need to lay down.”

My mother gives nothing away with her face, she isn’t one for expressions, so it’s almost impossible for me to ever know what she’s feeling, or thinking. In all my life of knowing her, she has always been this way, and every day of my life it unnerves me. I have never seen her laugh, nor smile, I have never seen her kiss my father, I have never even seen them hold hands--it is as though they’re not even human. The only day that will lift my parent’s spirits is Sunday, when they force me to church against my will. Only then do I see a difference in their moods, and it reminds me that they are human after all.

She continues sewing, threading the needle with precise control as she takes a breath while staring down at her work. I watch her with an eyebrow raised, considering the possibility that I must be adopted. It’s the only rational explanation for any of this. Sometimes I hope for it so much so I can find an excuse to leave them and follow the trail of two complete strangers that could be anywhere in the world.

As much as I hate to admit it, I have never felt loved in this house. I have never felt wanted. I’ve always felt second place to an imaginary being in the sky. It’s been that way my entire life. I’ve always been invisible, neglected, and left wondering if there is any point to remaining alive. And then I found a point, I found a reason, I found it all.

“Do you know it is a sin to lie?” my mother asks me suddenly.

“Yes,” I say.

“Recite Proverbs, chapter twelve, verse twenty-two.”

“The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people that are trustworthy,” I say through clenched teeth.

I hate that I can reply to that so easily, but I have an eidetic memory, which has brought the curse of the Bible upon me. But also, has given me the perfect chance to babble these odd verses from my mouth and to not ignite a wrath inside my mother even though I have no care in the world for them.

“Good,” she says. “You may rest, but tomorrow, I want the kitchen cleaned top to bottom.”

I clench my jaw, scraping my top and bottom teeth against each other in sudden annoyance. “Yes, mother.”

“And the bathroom still needs cleaning,” my father says in a translucent tone of steel. “I believe you were supposed to clean it days ago.”

“I’m sorry, I got distracted,” I say.

“With what?” he asks.

Unlike my mother, my father goes to the effort of lifting his head to meet my eyes. I glare into those piercing, beady hazel eyes and I catch my breath that he could look at me with such loathe rather than love. My father isn’t well kept. He wears plain, simple shirts with baggy pants and has taken to growing a musty, unwashed beard that reaches below his collarbone. His dim, black hair is either always messy and unbrushed, or flat and smothered in slick grease. He takes no pride in his appearance because just like my mother, he believes noticing oneself is an act of sin.

My mother is just as revolting. They had me quite late in life so her hair is half dark brown and half grey. It’s as long as mine, because we’re not permitted to cut our hair, and she has so many knots and careless loose strands that if she did ever put a comb through it, it’d most likely all fall out. Despite her impeccable hair growth, she only ever lets her hair down before she relinquishes herself to bed, every other moment of the day it is tied back in a neat, circular bun. She wears a boring blouse and a boring blazer with boring, grey pants and slippers that are half eaten from moths. Her pale, wrinkled face contains permanent bags under her eyes that no amount of cream in the world could fix.

It’s safe to say I avoid going out in public with them as much as possible--but there’s no saving me from Sundays.

“Tidying the rest of the house,” I say with a quick, sarcastic smile that doesn’t meet my eyes.

“Did you do your assignment yet?” my mother asks. “It’s due tomorrow.”

Just like every other thing my parents control, I’m home-schooled. My mother worked as a high-school teacher for thirty years before retirement, so she’s my qualified, pain-in-the-ass lecturer five days a week. Even though she’s the only teacher I’ve ever known, I’ve still passed every exam that the Board of Education has graded me on with a 4.33 GPA score. When I was younger, I read a lot. I read anything and everything, just to get away from home, because it wasn’t like I had any school-friends to do things with. I don’t know how I adapted to being smart, I’ve never really had that influence from my parents, but gaining an eidetic memory from anything I read has been the only thing that has kept me in their good books.

“I did my assignment three days ago,” I say. “I told you that.”

“Don’t back chat.”

“Sorry,” I say, swallowing. “Can I go now? I really don’t feel well.”

“Yes,” she finally says, and the word is like music to my ears. “See you at dawn.”

I keep the act of feeling sick going until I’m halfway up the staircase, and then I release the hot water bottle from my stomach and a grin lights up my face. I keep a steady pace as I cross the landing, and I open my bedroom door and my pace quickens.

I run over to my bed, hoisting up the mattress as I search for my secret mobile phone that I keep hidden from them. It’s against their rules to have any form of technology--that includes mobile devices, computers, laptops, televisions, iPods, even a bloody watch. I’m not ‘allowed’ to have any form of communication with the outside world while inside this house, because this is ‘God’s’ house and God never ‘intended’ for the modern world to occur. Yet, they have electricity and gas, and they drive cars--some things are just so contradictory that it’s laughable.

I’m also not allowed to have a boyfriend, because of the temptation of sin, but what they don’t know won’t kill them. I’m not accustomed to abiding by their rules, I break them every chance I get. I’ve had sex, I’ve drank, I’ve taken drugs, I’ve wore make-up, I’ve wore ‘provocative’ clothing and I’ve even supported the LGBT community by attending their rallies.

And I haven’t always been smart about it. They’ve come home and caught me drinking and smoking a few times while they were out of town on ‘church expeditions’ and the repercussions were pathetic.

They locked me in my bedroom, for seven whole days, with only a small bottle of water to keep me alive. That was just the first time. It didn’t stop me. The second time, I had a friend over that I befriended in the neighbourhood and friends are forbidden. We were smoking, as teenagers do, and my parents once again decided to come home early. They kicked my punishment up a notch and made me take a shower in freezing cold water then they water-boarded me for one whole minute.

That was the closest I’ve ever come to breaking point, and I promised myself I would never let them have that control over me again.

I scroll through my list of contacts and I go straight to his name. I click call, while opening the window of my bedroom to lean into the fresh darkness.

“Hello?” Nathan’s voice is the even better music to my ears.

“Hey,” I whisper. “They bought it. They’ll be in bed soon.”

“Okay, when do you want me to come?”

“I’ll text you when they’ve come upstairs. I’ll have to wait a while until they’re fully asleep, so I’ll let you know when I’m coming down.”

“Okay,” he says, I can hear the loud, party-going sound of clusters of other voices in the background. “You’re not really missing much.”

“Anything is much to me after a day in this hell hole,” I laugh. “You haven’t drank have you?”

“I’ve had one. I’m alright to drive. I’ll come pick you up, but don’t be too long because if I don’t have more alcohol soon I’m going to fall asleep.”

“Nathan,” I say with a hard, thorough voice. “I swear to God if you fall asleep before coming to get me then I’m going to run to that party and cut your-”

“Alright,” he laughs, over-riding the best bit of my threat. “I’ll let my imagination finish that sentence.”

I find myself smiling as I press the phone tighter to my ear. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Hopefully.”

“Hopefully,” I echo.

He disconnects the call and I stare at the blank screen with a frown. I was enjoying having his voice inside my ear, it’s the only thing that ignites an unfamiliar smile on my face. Since meeting Nathan, my life has been turned upside down. I thought I was worthless, useless and had no purpose to living--until that one fine day when he knocked on the door of my house, confusing it for someone else’s, and blew my world apart.

Thankfully, my parents were at one of their secret church meetings, and I was home alone. He stood there confident and strong on my porch--this handsome, dark-haired stranger with light grey eyes and thick, dark eyelashes. He said some words, I said some words, I laughed, he laughed, and somehow, we exchanged numbers, somehow, he saw beyond what anyone else sees when they look at me.

He saw the one thing I have never seen in myself--he saw promise.

While I wait in agony for my parents to take themselves to their separate bedrooms, I begin getting ready. I ditch my silk pyjamas, and I replace them with a long-sleeved black sweater and denim shorts. I unearth my secret makeup bag, which I keep hidden underneath a broken floorboard, and I stare at myself in the mirror as I wonder what to do.

My wavy, black hair is knotty and disgraceful. I take out a comb from the drawer--something that my mother allows me to keep, and I begin combing it back, smiling as the waves layer themselves down my shoulders.

I grip my dimple-chin between my fingers, swinging my face left and right, sighing as I reach into my makeup bag to see what I can try and do to make my face more presentable. I decide to just rub my skin in cream that makes it shiny and oily, rather than coat it in foundation. My eye lashes are already thick and dark, but I gently add some mascara to give it some volume.

I look at my reflection, squinting at myself to see if I’ve missed anything.

Lip gloss.

I reach back into my bag, bringing out a tube of coconut lip gloss that tastes bizarre on my lips. I spread it out, filling it in until I’m pretty much smothered in it.

That’s enough. That’s more oddity than I’m used to.

I hide my bag, rising from my stool, and I turn out my bedroom light--climbing into bed with the covers pulled across my body. They’ll most likely check on me before they go to sleep, they usually do whenever my mother makes me recite the lie passage. I pat my hair, making sure it covers my face, as I turn away from the door towards the window.

I watch the moon that sits high in the blanket of darkness, and I find myself praying to it that tonight will be okay. I’ve snuck out a thousand times, they never suspected a thing--so why should tonight be different?

It’ll be fine. It’ll all be fine. I’ll be home before dawn and I’ll get a few hours rest until I’m woken up, and by then I’ll be fresh and ready to face the horrors of the day.

It’ll all be fine.

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