That’s how I was feeling right now.
That’s how I always felt.
Over the years.
I sighed and stared into space emptily. I just zoned out on everything or ran down memory lane against my consent.
It was not in my control anymore. I didn’t try to control it anymore. I just decided to go with the flow and see where things took me.
Where life planned on taking me.
Over the years, I got used to it.
There were no greys. There was no white.
It was all black for me and I was completely fine with it.
After all, I gave up on my life five years ago in that accident.
It annihilated my entire family.
It changed me, emotionally and spiritually.
I was not the girl I used to be.
At some point, I screamed and wished for everything to go back to normal but as my nightmares screamed back at me every night over and again, I submitted to its will and fell silent.
“Are you okay?” I looked to my right. It was Serene, my classmate. “You don’t look good.” She frowned at my silence.
Serene was slim-figured and fair-skinned. Her hair was black and her eyes were green. She looked like a doll but I knew of her potential to kill.
“We are going to the canteen. You want to come?” She asked me hopefully.
“Serene!” She was called by her so-called friends. “Let’s just go.”
“You should leave,” I closed my laptop and packed my bag. I stood up to leave and faced her stoically.
Serene kept looking at me but when I showed no signs to reciprocate in any form, she heaved a defeated sigh and left silently.
“You brought it upon yourself when you chose to believe that arsehole over me, Serene,” I whispered to myself and walked out of the studio as well.
“Unfortunate for you but I don’t forget things so easily.”
Some things could never be changed back once they were destroyed, no matter how much one wished for them to be restored.
That’s what I learned from life. That was what life was.
A horrible ugly bitch that followed ‘give and take’.
But it always took more than it gave.
“Nothing changed,” I whispered while walking towards the parking lot. “Nothing will change.”
I shook my head when I felt my thoughts going down the same darkness that I took years to come out from. I was not going to give in to that pessimism again.
Not for me but for the sake of my mother and my siblings.
“Ashley?” I stopped and looked back with a frown.
“What?” I asked when Serene stopped in front of me.
“I am tired of all this,” Serene said exasperatedly. “I know what happened was not right–”
“What about it?” I cut her sharply. “You still believe that bastard and not me.” I scoffed. “Spare me the guilt trip, okay?”
I walked away from her angrily.
She was my friend but she chose to abandon me. I put my trust in her and she knew how fragile it was. She knew everything about me and my past, yet she chose to leave me when I needed her the most.
She was still my friend but I could not look past her betrayal.
All because of a guy who was never honest with her.
I always knew about his intentions but Serene never believed us. And when it was time for Serene to stand by me, she chose to believe what others said about me luring her so-called lover into seduction.
Serene chose a guy over me and I chose my self-respect over her betrayal.
Serene was my only friend besides Marie. I was not at fault and she was not ready to listen.
“Ash, wait,” She grabbed my arm to stop me.
“Enough, Serene,” I pulled my arm free of her hold. “I am sick and tired of this. Please, leave me alone.”
“You are my friend, Ash” Serene tried again.
I raised my hand to stop her when she tried touching my arm. She looked hurt by my action but I was more hurt.
I was already wounded by so many things.
“Spare me” I spat venomously. “I was never your friend. People like me” I gestured towards myself, “don’t associate with the likes of you” I pointed in her direction.
“What is wrong with you, Ashley?” Serene almost yelled in exasperation.
“There is nothing wrong with me” I fixed the strap of my bag on my shoulder. “I am just what I am.” I walked away from her and went to the parking lot.
Luckily, she didn’t pursue me anymore.
“What took you so long?” Marie exploded the moment I sat in the car. I dumped my things in the backseat and turned toward her.
“Nothing,” I said nonchalantly and looked outside when she drove out of the university.
“I can tell by just a glance,” She snorted. “Serene came to you again, didn’t she?”
“It is nothing,” I said without looking her way. “I am fine.”
“You call this fine?” Marie cut me sternly. “Look at me first.” I did. “You are nowhere near fine, Ash. Living like this is not called being fine.”
“I am okay, Marie,” I replied honestly. “Focus on driving.”
“I am focused on driving.” Marie countered. “Way to dodge the talk.” She shook her head when I chose silence instead of answering.
I was grateful to Marie for so many things. Especially her patience towards me and her being with me all these years.
It was not easy for me to let her in. It was not easy to open up to her. And I knew she realised it too that I was really messed up inside.
But Marie was always there for me.
She chose to deal with my demons with me instead of walking away from me like many others.
We got out of the car together and went inside our home. We rented it together when I came to Leicester.
I sat down on the sofa and let out a tired sigh.
“What were you talking about in the morning?” I asked Marie when she sat next to me. “About some urgent matter?”
“There is a party tonight and you are coming with me,” Marie answered.
“I am not–”
“I don’t recall asking you, Ash.” Marie raised one finger to stop me from speaking again. “We leave at seven in the evening. It gives us ample time to get ready.”
I raised a brow at her.
“And let me warn you,” her smile was threatening, “don’t dare to wear just anything, and don’t wear black at all. I have already picked a dress for you. It is in your room.”
“That’s why you didn’t leave with me in the morning.” I shook my head in disbelief.
“Be ready or else, I will tie you down and make you wear the most embarrassing dress you could ever imagine” Marie threatened again.
“I already have plenty of traumas.” I didn’t stop to hear her snarky comeback and went to my room upstairs.
There, on my bed, lay the most beautiful dress that I had ever seen.
Damn this Marie.
“Why red?” I scowled at the poor cloth.
Marie knew I hated red.
Besides, the dress was too good to be worn by a person of my figure. My body was in good shape but I couldn’t muster enough courage to wear it.
“If you are thinking that you won’t look good in that dress then drop the thought right now,” Marie answered my inner dilemma from behind.
She walked inside my room and stood in front of me.
“You know me so well, don’t you?” I placed the dress back on the bed.
“For being the confident and level-headed person that you are, you sure lack self-esteem at times.” Marie sighed.
“I can’t disagree on that for so many reasons.” I chuckled when she glared. “I am wearing it, alright? Relax.”
“We are going to slay it tonight” Marie pumped her fist in the air.
I was more worried than amused now.
I didn’t want her to elaborate on her plans for the night to me. I was already in a battle with myself for not finding any excuse to get out of this.
I didn’t want to go but I didn’t want to hurt Marie. It was the least I could do for her for all the shit she put up with over years.
It was just a party.
“I am going to go take a shower before you say anything that could change my mind about going.”
I went to the bathroom before she could have replied. I stripped down and hopped into the steaming hot shower.
I stood motionlessly under the water for a few minutes before closing my eyes and letting out a tired sigh. I rubbed my face tiredly and pushed my hair back.
I opened my eyes when this single word popped out of nowhere.
“Why what?” I asked myself.
I shook my head furiously before I could let those thoughts surface again.
I turned off the shower once I was done and wrapped myself in a towel. I dried my hair with another towel and stood in front of the mirror.
It was all foggy because of the steam.
I kept staring at my blurred reflection for some time before clearing the fog off of the part around my eyes.
They were empty.
Just like my life.
There was nothing.
I wiped the mirror hurriedly and stared at my face.
My hair was brown but the shade was closer to Burgundy. They were wavy and ended near my waist. My eyes were dark brown but the colour resembled closely to raw ruby.
It was nothing exceptional but my mother always told me that my eyes made me stand out.
I was five-four in height with an okay body. My skin was fair. I had a lot of my mother in me but she was way prettier. Fey resembled her more than me.
I walked out of the bathroom after blow-drying my hair. I put on the undergarments and wore the dress. I matched a pair of silver moderate heels with the dress.
I curled my hair nicely and set it with a few pins in a simple style. I checked in the mirror once I was done and nodded in satisfaction.
I was not a huge fan of makeup. I opted for voluminous mascara and a light shadow on my eyes and applied a light blush on my cheeks. They were naturally blushed so I didn’t want to overdo them. I used rose-coloured lipstick as a final touch-up.
I sat on my bed and waited for Marie to get done as well. I checked the time when Marie entered my room.
She was not even a minute late or early.
“Are you-” Marie stopped and looked at me.
“I told you,” I stood up. “I will look bad in this dress but you didn’t listen-”
“Oh. My. God!” Marie squealed excitedly. I was completely lost by her reaction. “Look at you” she rushed to me and spun me around.
“I will fall,” I exclaimed fearfully. “Marie!” I breathed in relief when she stopped.
“I bet someone will be dying to help you when you do.” She wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.
“First of all,” I pulled my arms free of her hold. “These dresses are not for casual parties. Where are we going?”
“A party.” She replied happily. It made me suspicious. “You look beautiful.”
“You look beautiful” I curved the statement back to her.
Marie was wearing a gold cocktail dress. It was hugging her figure perfectly. Her red hair was up in a messy bun with a few strands loose, framing her doll-like face. Her hazel eyes were standing out.
Her makeup was naturally done and the heels made her legs look longer than they already were.
“You really look ready to slay a lot of hearts tonight,” I chuckled.
“So do you, my love.” Marie winked at me. “Shall we?”
I just nodded and we left for the party. Marie was in too much merry for this party.
“It is going to be a fun night.” She said suddenly. “I can feel it.”
“You feel it for every party you go to, Marie,” I replied.
“No,” Marie looked at me and smile. “I can feel it. There will be something different about it.” I shook my head at her optimism. “It is your first party with me.”
“I promised you that I will accompany you in our last year,” I said without looking at her.
“That is why I am telling you.” I looked at Marie at this. “I wish- no,” Marie shook her head. “I pray that your life changes for good, Ash.”
And just like every other time, I chose silence over voicing my thoughts.
Because I knew nothing was going to change for me. At least not for the good.
I listened to her talking happily for the rest of the ride. But my horror hit me full force when we reached the venue of the said party.
“You said it was a party.” I faced Marie accusingly. “You never mentioned it to be an annual ball of some sort. Forget it, I am not going in. Take me back-”
“Don’t be a poltroon,” Marie got out of the car.
I refused to move when she came to my side and opened the door.
“No.” I refused. “This is non-negotiable.” I could feel the anxiety kicking in. “Let me go back home.”
“It’s just a party.” Marie tried to convince me. “I will be with you. What is there to worry about?”
I looked at her and then at hordes of cars and people entering the gigantic building.
“Something terrible is going to happen tonight,” I mumbled out loud.
I did believe it.
“Nothing is going to happen.” Marie groaned. “I promise I will be with you all the time, okay?”
I caved in and got out of the car unwillingly.
Marie grabbed my hand and dragged me toward the entrance.
It was a party of high society people from inside and outside as well.
“Who threw this party?” I looked around slightly perplexed.
“The least you could do was tell me that you were coming.” A very annoying voice said from behind us.
“Hello, mother,” Marie said sweetly to instigate her mother more. “What? I am here, aren’t I?” She said defensively. “I even brought company.” I glared at her when she latched onto my arm. “Now you cannot chew me out in public.”
“I don’t even want to acknowledge you as my daughter if possible.” Mrs. Lawrence retorted and then looked at me.
Her countenance shifted in a flash.
“Dear, it’s so good to see you.” She jerked Marie away before hugging me. “I am glad you came too.”
I grinned at Marie’s expressions of bewilderment.
“You are making her uncomfortable” Marie pulled her mother away from me.
“Can you ever learn to show some respect and manners?” Mrs. Lawrence shook her head in disappointment. “You hardly make contact or visit home. You never answer my calls. And now that you are seeing your mother, this is the reaction you could best muster up?”
“I am busy with studies. You are just being too dramatic.” Marie smiled sweetly. “Goodness me, you are a mother of three, not one. You can pester the other two as well.”
“They are not problem children unlike you.” I snickered.
“See,” Mrs. Lawrence smirked at her. “Your best friend knows it too.”
I smiled at their bickering. It made me miss my mom terribly.
I wish mom would take a break and enjoy life a little.
“Are you okay?” Mrs. Lawrence looked at me concerned.
“I am absolutely fine” I lied. “So, what is this party for?”
“I don’t know the details. It’s a family from a foreign land.” Mrs. Lawrence answered. “They have set everyone’s nerves on fire in such a short time.”
Marie and I exchanged glances at this.
“Nobody knows who they are. They have not made their appearance yet.”
“Unbelievable” Marie began.
“As if we don’t have enough tyrants that one more joined the race.” I scoffed bitterly.
“Ash!” Marie shot me a warning look.
“I am sorry.” I looked at Mrs. Lawrence apologetically. “It’s just–”
“How many times have I told you to call me Ellie?” She grabbed my hand and patted it. “You are to me just as Marie, Anna, and Oliver are.”
“That is enough,” Marie pulled me away from her. “Please go and play with your peers. We don’t want to spend the rest of the night with you.” Marie pushed me in the opposite direction.
“Don’t overdo anything” Ellie yelled after us in a warning.
“I thought she would never leave us alone,” Marie said breathily. “I never knew it was this kind of party. I would have never dragged you here otherwise. Heck! I would have never come myself. That mother of mine!” Marie groaned.
I rubbed my arms and looked around. I felt a sudden chill run down my spine. It made me shiver visibly but there was nothing in sight that I could pinpoint.
“What’s wrong?” Marie asked when she noticed my constantly moving gaze.
“Nothing,” I replied while stealing one last gaze around the hall just to be sure.
“Let’s check the place.” Marie grabbed my hand and dragged me up the grand staircase.
Damn her excitement.
It always landed us in trouble.
We stopped when we reached the second floor and gaped at our lavish surroundings.
“Mother of extravaganza!” Marie mumbled in awe.
The interior and architecture of the entire place were splendid. Everything was screaming money and power.
“Mother Jesus!” We said in unison.
“Who are these people exactly?” I turned to Marie after I was done admiring the hallway to its last brick. “Marie?”
She was gone.
I cursed under my breath and hurried along the wide hallways. I called her but she didn’t answer. She probably left her phone in the car and forgot about me in her endeavours of the unknown.
I was lost for sure.
This floor was like a maze with so many wide hallways. I opened countless doors but I couldn’t find Marie.
“I should sit down” I palmed my knees.
I really need to sit down.
I looked around but there was no chair or settee. There were just three doors along the hallway and the closest to me was on my right side.
It’s not like I’m going to steal something. I just want to rest for a minute or two.
“Whatever” I opened the door and entered. The room was dimly lit but it was enough to illuminate the interior.
Everything was in a dark shade of grey and black. The interior of the room was modern. The bed was in the middle of the room. Its sheets were black as well.
A full glass window with a balcony opened to the garden below. There were two doors side by side with arched doorways. Both seemed interconnected.
There was a sofa near the glass window in a separate space. The design made it look like a small study with bookshelves. A smart screen was attached to one wall in that study.
“Nice!” I said while looking around.
My heels were killing me.
I sat on the bed and took off my shoes. I massaged my feet to relieve them from soreness. I sighed in relief when I felt the pain subsiding a little.
I laid on my back and let out an inaudible sigh.
“What am I doing here?” I looked out the window.
“Really,” A deep voice made me bolt straight up. “What are you doing here?”
My breath hitched when he emerged out of the shadows.