Her face painted in utter dissatisfaction and despondency while standing beside her stepfather, with a few visible bruises on her face. My chest pained for her failed effort.
I removed the fragmented shards stuck in my arm while conveying noises of pain.
“Calvin.” Her mother widened her eyes, looking at our dishevelled appearance. “I told you not to touch my daughter.”
The stepfather did not bother to hide his indignation as he glared at both me and Hope before leaving to the dining table. I try to stand, cautious not to injure my arm in the process. From the corner of my eye, Hope stopped her mother from crouching down and assisted to grab the shards. As much as she despises her for ending her father’s life, she would not risk losing another parent or her future brother. It is a magnificent sight to behold. I got on my knees and collected some too.
Like the last drop of a perishing waterfall, crimson red trail down my arm. Before it stained the floor, I took a napkin from the marble counter and applied pressure onto it.
“Are you alright?” Hope whispered just as her mother soundlessly left. The brief apologetic look that shimmered in Hope’s eyes concealed just as it showed. I nod in reply, getting rid of the trash in my palms.
“Let’s get back, Angel.” I help her to her feet, and we return to the table, where Calvin was clutching his wife’s arm ruthlessly. He dropped it as we entered the living room.
“I apologize for his behaviour.” She eyed the fresh scars on my upper arm, which my sleeves covered. My mind wandered to her fresh wounds. It was where Calvin grabbed a second ago.
“Don’t bother,” Calvin interjected, rolling his eyes. We ate dinner in silence, and I shifted uncomfortably every time I saw his sight set on me, narrowing suspiciously as if I was a mystery.
I occasionally flinched when I move my forelimb, feeling a stab whenever I did. I attempted suppressing the pain, but an inevitable wince would occur occasionally. It looks terrible, and I know it will leave a scar.
“Hope,” her mother called out of nowhere when we were finishing up our meals. “Would you come over again in two weeks? Your brother will be borne by then.”
Hope looked reluctant but should be aware that it isn’t her parents she would be visiting next. Instead, it would be an innocent new-born who she will call her sibling. She came to a decision and accepted the invitation, seeming dreadful. I understood her point, having to return to visit her father after her plan failed miserably is rather horrendous. He now knows she has bad intentions.
“I suppose that’s a surprise,” Hope’s father taunted. Hope stayed silent, ignoring her stepfather’s unnecessary comment and continued with her dish, which was close to empty.
Right after she finished the last scoop, she stood, knocking over the chair behind her and made her way swiftly to the kitchen. I copied the move in a calmer way. Hope was impassive, but her clenched fist told otherwise.
She was in the same room with the murderers who killed her father. Imagining what it felt in her place is an impossible task. I sighed, walking up to her to tap her on the shoulder.
She turned, glaring bitterly. Her face only softened when she realized it was me. She opened her mouth, seeming as if she wanted to say something. Her eyes lingered on my arm, where the blood had dried. “I’m sorry,” she said, her eyes showing those of despair. Her voice was a clear definition of sincerity. “I really shouldn’t have dragged you into my mess.”
“Hope, it’s alright, I feel perfectly fine,” I said, cracking a convincing smile.
“No,” she stated with a note of finality. “I should have known trusting anyone will hurt someone else, too.”
“I should have listened to my father,” she mumbled. I grabbed her wrist gently, making sure she turned to face me.
“It’s fine,” I emphasized, taking a small step closer. “I don’t regret helping you do this, I’m willing to see murderers brought to jail. Don’t blame yourself.”
Dismayed incertitude flooded her face and twinkled in her eyes before she took the plate from my hand to help wash it. She was distressed like her mind was home to heartache.
It took a moment before she finally decided to speak, “It’s been years since I learned to fight.” She lined up the plates neatly and threw the fork and spoon into a drawer. “It’s pathetic. Even after years of motivation from my subconscious, I still can’t beat the only person I learned fighting for.”
A soft, humourless laugh escaped her lips.
“I’m so weak.”
I was just a small step away from her.
“The adjective you used to describe yourself isn’t true. You know that, right? You are your own person. Don’t let his words get into your head.”
She stared into my eyes as if searching for a lie. However, I meant every word. Although it had been just a few months, I feel a correlation closer to her than others I have known for years.
“My dad uttered the same words once,” she stated. A small tug was at the side of her lips as if looking back at a memory. “He gives me hope.”
I smiled, then offered a hand to lead Hope back to the table where her parents were seated. They seem to be having a consequential talk but stopped the moment they caught us in sight. It was already late. The sky was a black canvas with spots in the form of stars, and Hope’s mother was swift to notice we had the intention of leaving.
She stood, gradually approaching us. “I’m sorry once again for my husband,” she apologizes. “I’ll be looking forward to your visit next week with my baby boy.”
Hope nodded briefly, grabbing her bag and leaving with my hand in hers.
“I know the way back,” I said as she bolted for the driver’s seat.
“Your arm’s still bleeding.” Again, she is reminded of the fact that I have a wound. We climbed into the car, and she wasted no time before starting to drive.
Only the sound of music can be perceived. It obstructed any secondary noise, and I honestly did not mind. But I was still struggling to think of questions to start a conversation.
With a hurricane unheard from the outside, it’s intense gyrate evanesce into nothing as my phone rang. The name ‘Ashley’ coruscated back at me. I stole a glance at Hope, who was eyeing my ringing phone. After a silent debate with my head, I pressed it against my ear.
“Tyler…” Her voice was a mix of concern and torment, one that would send anyone into a wave of panic.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, waiting for her reply, but all I could hear was stifling.
“Can we talk? I’m outside your place,” she said, her voice breaking as she spoke.
“Outside my place?” I exaggerated, wondering how long she had been waiting for me to return home. I glanced at Hope, who had the expression of slight displeasure. It flashed in her eyes so rapidly I could have missed it.
“I’ll make my way over.” I sighed, earning a dejected ‘thank you’ from Ashley before she ended the call.
“I figure you have someone to meet?” Hope asked.
I nodded, climbing out of the car. She did the same. “I’ll come over tomorrow,” I informed, and her eyebrows knit together in confusion.
“Haven’t you been visiting me a lot?” she remarked.
“I have my own parents, too. I was wondering if you could repay a favour and be my company,” I said, raising a suggestive eyebrow.
She did not dawdle for an answer like she typically does. Instead, she nodded almost instantaneously. Not desperately, but willingly. I was taken aback. It was always a reluctant bob. I smile, walking around the car and making my way to my house.
As expected, Ashley was sitting, legs bent and touching her chest, looking dismayed outside the entrance of my house. The moment my car swerved into the lot my car habitually parks in, she perked up and flashed me a sorrowful smile from where she was.
I could make out dried tears on her face, a pair of swollen eyes, and a nose which was tinted red.
“What’s wrong?” I asked when I left my car. She hurried towards me, looking immensely relieved.
“Tyler.” She threw her arms around my neck and embracing me in a warm hug. “Thanks for coming.”
I pulled away. “What’s wrong?” I reiterated, unable to think of a reason for Ashley to be outside my door at such a late hour with unrestrained tears.
“My mom, she…” She started sobbing again. I took her hand in mine and led her into my place and settled us on the couch.
“I got a call earlier from the hospital saying my mom had a seizure,” she explained, her hand trembling while she cried unceasingly. “I was so scared. I waited in the hospital for what seemed like an eternity.”
I placed a comforting hand behind her back, hoping to soothe her from the hysterical crying. Her emotional pain was almost contagious. I know she is close to her mother. There was no doubt that she would have an enormous reaction when something disastrous happened. It was not the first time she rushed over to alert me of what was on her mind. It had been an uncountable number of times.
“It’s going to be fine, just stay strong,” I reassured, though I was uncertain. I just aimed to give her hope.
“Thank you,” she whispered, just loud enough for me to hear. She glanced up, looking into my intense gaze. “You’re the first person I think of when I feel defenceless.”
We were just inches apart, as she stared into my eyes. I give her a genuine smile, but my mind was elsewhere, wondering how I would feel if Hope was in her position.
“Where were you all day?” she asked, and my mouth went dry. Was it wise to tell her the truth?
“Just out with Josh and Gray,” I lied, earning a small nod.
I get out of my previous position, grimacing as I move my arm. The simple wince did not go undetected by Ashley. She sprang into action immediately.
“Are you hurt?” she questioned.
“No.” I clenched my jaw.
“Let me see,” she said strictly.
“Ash, it’s none of your business.” My words were ignored, and my sleeves lifted before I could retreat.
“What is that?!” she seemed appalled at the sight, despite it being just a nasty scar.
“Nothing,” I dismissed, quite infuriated for she had turned a deaf ear to my advice. It was simple enough to listen and brush it off. “You should go, it’s late,” I politely requested for her to leave. She sighed before finally heeding advice.
Then, finally, I found myself alone with my thoughts.
The following day, I head for lunch right after doing all the necessities in the morning. I aimed to return to my car and visit Hope immediately but stopped in my tracks when a shop catches my eye. I thought for a moment, but could not find anything wrong with it, so I did not dither before entering.
I head for Hope’s place right after, parking my car and knocking twice on the door.
“Hey,” she greeted, welcoming me without second thoughts. It was a pleasant surprise since I remembered how long she used to ponder before opening the door wide for me.
“Does it still hurt?” she asked, referring to my arm.
I let out a chuckle. “It hurts.”
In alarm, she closed our distance to inspect the scar. But instead, her eyes trailed to the black ink beside it.
“Since when did you have a tattoo?!” she shrieked, looking at me absurdly.
“I didn’t see why not,” I replied simply, casually strolling to her couch and settling down. “I got two letters tattooed on me, ‘H’ for my sister, Hailey, and ‘V’ for my mother, Violet. The two people I cherish most in the world.”
She nodded, looking at the ink closely in awe.
“I suppose it looks fine,” she said. “Did it hurt?”
“Not a big fan of needles,” I stated, having my own look at the two letters permanently written on my body. It is a fantastic distraction from the original gash beside it. Although it was harsh to admit, I barely thought about my sister or mother while getting the tattoo. My mind was with Hope. I might regret it, but it did have meaning. She taught me that giving up should never be an option.
‘HV,’ Hope Valentino.