I am sitting on the couch and I am watching Lauren playing on the floor with her son. I didn’t know where else to go. Not to Iris. She knew. She must have known. All the other Valkyries must have known, too. And yet they pushed in that light way of theirs. “Wood has no Valkyrie”, “He is great”, “He cooks”. Were they mocking me?
I let out a sigh to keep from crying like I did all the way to Lauren’s house. But I can’t let the boy see me like that. Maybe that’s why I came here, knowing I couldn’t wallow in self-pity.
“So,” Lauren lets the boy play on his own and sits right next to me on the couch. “Is it about that hot biker picking you up every day?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“OK, OK. I get it. When Paul left me with a belly up my nose, I didn’t want to talk about it either so I get it. But if you want to-”
A loud bang on the door and a voice I know so well interrupt us. I gather my feet up the couch and I look at Lauren.
“What do you want me to do?”
“I don’t want to see him,” I say determined.
“Go to my room. I will get rid of him.”
“I have dealt with worst,” she says as she picks up her son and makes for the door.
I run to her room and close the door, leaning against it, ready to interfere if Wood goes too far. I hear the door open and I brace.
“Is Tamie here?”
“Woah!” Lauren uses the same tone she does with her wild kid. “Take a step back, mister, before I call the police.”
“Please, ma’am,” Wood says, always the gentleman. “I need to talk to her.”
“Well, I don’t really care about what you need. Right now, you are harassing me and my kid.”
As if on cue, the boy starts fussing and crying lightly. I know Wood. He won’t push too much with a kid involved. He is kind and considerate like that.No, he is a lying bastard. I try to get from under his spell but that’s going to take a while.
“Please, Lauren,” I hear him plead.
“Which part of “she doesn’t want to see you” don’t you understand?” Lauren fires back.
I can’t but smile at that. I know Wood won’t hurt her but he is a scary looking man. Still, Lauren pulls all her courage and fire back at him.
“Tamie, please!” he raises his voice.
The hurt in his voice reaches me, sweeps in my skin, finds my heart and strangles it with an iron grip. I put my palm over my mouth to stop me from whimpering.
“Please, Tamie, please,” he pleads and I feel as if a knife in plunged into my guts.
“That’s it!” Lauren interferes. “I am calling the police!”
“No, no. It’s OK. I... I get it,” Wood huffs and I can almost see him rub his neck or fuss with his beard. “I just wanted...”
A long pause.
“I am terribly sorry, Lauren, but I will be coming back,” Wood finally says. “Can’t let the love of my life get away so easily, you know.”
Lauren says nothing to that. What can she say? Even I, behind a closed door am hit with the emotion his words carry and I almost open the door to run to him. But I don’t. He lied to me, he used me. He is not willing to lose his toy. I will not be anyone’s toy ever again. I step away from the door and sit on Lauren’s messy bed.
After a few minutes, Lauren comes in and looks at me with a mellow look. I know that look. No woman with flesh and red, hot blood can stay unmoved by any of the Riders, let alone Wood.
“I don’t mean to pry,” Lauren sits right beside me, “but he seemed broken. Like a lovesick puppy you want to nurture and hug and pet. Definitely pet all those muscles and-”
“I don’t know what that guy did to you but if he hasn’t hit you or anything how can you stay mad at him? Have you seen him?”
“Really? Have you seenseen him? The man is a living, breathing god!”
I smile at her.
“I told you before, Lauren. Stay away from boys and you will be fine.”
“Boys yeah. Him?” Lauren sighs. “That is not a boy. That is a man, through and through.”
My smile withers and I look out the window to the sky trying to control my emotions.
“I will leave you rest,” Lauren gets how I must be feeling.
She goes out and I get up to look upon the sky, the sun, things I promised myself to enjoy and appreciate every day. When my look wonders on the street, I see him. He is sitting on his bike and looks up the window. Our eyes meet and his whole body tenses. I try to look away but for a few moments I just can’t.
This is Wood, my Kyle, the man that saved me, body and soul. I still love him with all my fragile heart, can’t deny that. But he hurt me once with that Riley and twice with his lie. If I let him, the third time will kill me for sure. He gets off the bike but I shake my head and move away from the window.
And as Lauren predicted, I suddenly feel tired, more tired that I have ever felt in my life. A burden falls on me that I can’t control and I fall on the bed. I shut my eyes and I let go into the darkness that comes to claim me. Better that than the dull pain I feel in my heart.
When I open my eyes again, I hear far too many voices outside the room. Maybe Lauren is watching TV. It’s still daytime but certainly verging on evening. I have been sleeping for hours and I should be hungry. I am not. I feel sick in my stomach as I get up.
The reality of what’s happened falls on me. Wood is not here. He doesn’t love me. He only wanted me cause I look like Iris so much. The man I gave everything to after the Hell I have gone through lied to me.
I should feel angry but I don’t. I feel pain, immense pain. I squeeze my eyes and I stupidly wish it all away. I wish that what he promised me would be true, that he truly cared for me, for the real me. But no one has ever seen me for me. Perhaps I don’t really exist. Maybe I am a doll for real and people dress me up as they see fit. Doctor Barbie, S&M Barbie, Good Girl Barbie, Sister Barbie. If I cease to exist, another can take my place so easily.
My mother never cared about me, Daultrey could have any girl, Freddie used us all as spare parts. Even Iris found Ava and Magda to replace me. As for Wood... All he needs is a girl with dark hair and gray-blue eyes and he will forget about me.
“I need to see her,” a voice pierces through my dark thoughts.
“She is resting,” Lauren still tirelessly defends me.
“I just need to see that she is well. She has been sleeping for too long.”
I hear the door creak and the soft steps of my sister. I keep my eyes closed to pretend I am still sleeping. Last thing I need is to face Iris, the person I adored most and the one the man I love really wants. The irony is not lost to me but the pain is too great to let me appreciate it.
The bed creaks as Iris’s weight falls at the edge. Go away, is all I wish for. But life never granted me any wishes so why would it start now? I feel a hand on my shoulder, my sister’s tender touch but the pain is too sharp to feel any comfort.
“Tamie?” Iris tries once more.
“Please, leave,” I hear my voice and not recognize the croak coming out of my mouth.
“Talk to me. Pinky promise.”
A sudden anger washes over me. Pinky promise! I spring right off the bed and turn furious and look at my sister. Her look of worry and love almost breaks me but my bleeding heart thinks otherwise.
“Pinky promise, Iris?” I growl almost. “Like you kept yours when you revealed how Wood was going to claim you, right?”
Iris looks as if I smacked across the face. It’s true. I had one hope that it wouldn’t be true or at least that Iris didn’t know. But that look on her face says it all.
“He has never… He never actually…” Iris stutters.
“But you knew. You knew he was in love with you. You!”
“It’s not like that. I-”
“You knew and still you let me be… Whatever the hell I was for him. He only wanted me because I am your sister, because I look so much like you.”
“No!” I am yelling now “I am done! Done being what others want me to be. Fuck you all!”
Iris looks at me shocked. I have never yelled at her. She opens her mouth to talk but I must have a look on my face that leaves no room for talk.
“You have to come home, Tamie.”
“I don’t have to do anything. You go back to your house and your husband and have Wood as well for all I care. Have your job and your new friends and your car and your fucking day offs by the pool.”
I know I am seething now, spilling poison but I can’t control the pain I feel. Has all this been locked up inside me for so long? Did I know deep inside I would never belong? Iris stands and takes one step to me, her big eyes filled with pain. There is something inside that breaks my heart but I have beaten up so badly that I have gone sore and bitter and numb.
“Go away, Iris.”
“I said leave!” I point at the door.
Once more, my sister is rendered speechless. Her lips tremble and a single tear rubs down her cheek. She takes the few steps to the door, opens it and stops. She turns to me with those angelic eyes of hers.
“Whenever you want, whenever you are ready, I will wait. You are my sister. I love you.”
A lump is caught in my throat and I am ready to cry and open my arms to her. But I can’t. I need to stay away from her and the Riders. I need to find me.
Iris nods her head with a bittersweet smile and steps out of the room, closing the door behind her as if someone is asleep in the room. I hear some voices, Magda and Ava most likely, and then quiet. I fall back on the bed and sleep again.
That’s how my life is for the days to come. I crawl from the bed to the couch and even Lauren’s kid knows that something is off and keeps bringing me all his toys and puts them in my lap in a futile attempt to make me happy. I always muster a smile for the cute child and I play with him with half a heart. Then I eat a few spoonfuls of whatever Lauren is trying to force down my throat.
Iris. Iris calls every day and every day I wave the phone away listening to Lauren talk with my sister to assure her that, all things considered, I am fine. Alive at least. I hear then whisper and I am sure Lauren is letting my sister know it’s not time, not yet.
And then it’s him. He comes by every day. Almost at the same time. When I hear the knock on the door, I get up without saying anything and I retreat to the room locking the door and I sit on the floor, my hands sealing my ears.
He has passed the first line of defense. Lauren has a sweet spot for a face like his and he is so good with her son, bringing him toys and playing with him. And then he comes outside the door. Sometimes he begs for forgiveness, others he asks if I am doing OK, he makes promises, he talks. Sometimes I just hear his hand caressing the door. And others he just sits there. Those times, I think I hear him sob. But it must be my imagination. He can’t be crying over some lost doll.
“It’s been too long, Tamie,” Lauren says one morning in her small kitchen with her son propped on her hip.
“I’ll look for a job,” I say.
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Lauren sighs. “I like having you here. Damn, you are looking after Joel and I can finally go out like a normal person! I like having you here. But, Tamie, you need to... I don’t like meddling but...”
“Good morning, Tamie.”
It can’t be. No, it can’t be. The voice that fills the kitchen... I don’t turn, I just pin Laure with a dagger look. She has a guilty look on her face as she walks away. Behind me, I hear Wood whisper a “thank you” to her before his boots hit the kitchen tiles.
I steel myself as his scent wonders into my nose. How easy it would be to just forgive him, forget and go back with him. But I know I can’t. I simply can’t. As much I am hurting away from him, I realised that this was for the best.
I fell head over heels for Wood and forgot about me. I left from Iris and went to Wood, barely caring about my studies, wanting to be with him as much as I could and taking all he gave me, money, clothes, buying things for me. I forgot to grow.
“Tamie?” He is so close.
I turn to face him and I bite my inner lip when faced with his beautiful, soulful dark eyes. But I can’t. I am not even angry at him anymore. I am angry at me for letting this happen, for allowing a man to control me once more. For forgetting to be myself and stand on my own two feet.
“No,” I say simply.
That one word strikes him like a lightning. I pin him with my look, admiring my resolve at not crumbling down when I see him so lost and hurt. But I mean it. No more.
“I am begging you, kitten, I-” he tries.
“No,” my voice falls like an executioner’s ax, sharp, definite, deadly.
He takes me all in as if he wants to record everything to memory. He might as well do. We might never see each other again, not until I am me, till I find the core of my soul, my serenity, my strength. And even then, I don’t think I can forget how he hurt me and lied to me.
“I see,” he takes a step back. “I want you to know, Tamie, that I love you. I will always love you.”
I bite down my jaw in an attempt to control my emotions.
“Have a good day,” he smiles a bitter smile and walks away.
I sigh in relief when I hear the door close. I let my stiff shoulders relax and I look at the floor. Lauren comes in.
“I am sorry but I had to give the man a chance. By the looks of it, you are really over-”
She stops talking when she sees a teardrop fall on the floor. I am crying. For all the cruel denial I projected to him, all the cold distance I put between us, my heart breaks through the walls my mind has built up and reveals the painful truth. I love him. I still love him and I doubt I will ever stop. But I need to do this.